Electrocautery in arthroscopic surgery: intra-articular fluid temperatures above 43 °C cause potential tissue damage

J. H. G. Derriks, N. F. J. Hilgersom, E. Middelkoop, K. Samuelsson, M. P. J. van den Bekerom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose: The use of electrocautery during arthroscopy may heat intra-articular saline and subsequently damage intra- and extra-articular tissue. Newer electrocautery devices have the ability to measure the outflow fluid temperature and switch off before reaching a certain threshold; however, the scientific evidence establishing these temperature thresholds’ potential for inadvertent damage is lacking. The aim of this study was to analyse current available literature on temperature thresholds for tissue damage after exposure to heated fluid and provide a recommendation for the maximum temperature of intra-articular fluid to prevent tissue damage. Methods: In February 2018, a systematic literature review was performed using the MEDLINE/PubMed and Embase databases. Inclusion was limited to studies investigating temperature thresholds for thermal damage to at least one of the tissues of interest: skin, bone, cartilage, soft tissues, and nerves. Studies not reporting specific temperature thresholds for thermal damage were excluded. Results: Twenty articles were selected for the final evaluation and data extraction. Varying temperature thresholds, based on the lowest reported temperature causing tissue damage, were found for the different tissues of interest: 44 °C for dermal tissues, between 47 and 50 °C for bony tissues, 50 °C for cartilage, between 43 and 55 °C for soft tissues, and 43 °C for nerves. Conclusion: Based on the current literature, a temperature threshold for intra-articular fluid of 43 °C during an arthroscopic procedure is recommended to prevent tissue damage. Higher temperatures may cause damage to surrounding intra- and extra-articular tissues. The threshold for irreversible damage is likely to be higher. In clinical practise, one should be aware of possible heating of intra-articular fluid when using electrocautery and related risk of tissue damage. Level of evidence: III.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2270-2278
Number of pages9
JournalKnee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy
Issue number7
Early online date27 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020

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