To determine conditions for the safe use of radiofrequency (RF) tissue ablation probes that avoid damaging suture material.
Four sutures made of 3 different materials commonly used in arthroscopic procedures were analyzed in a saline bath related to effects of RF-produced heat by proximity, duration, and intensity settings measuring burn-through time and ultimate load to failure. The parameters tested were electrode-to-suture distance, power setting, and the presence of tendon tissue or metallic anchor eyelets. Outcome variables were the burn-through time and the ultimate failure load of differently treated suture samples.
Mean burn-through time for suture in direct contact with the RF probe ranged from 57.2 to 14.7 seconds for ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) sutures, 1.1 seconds for polydioxanone suture, and 0.8 seconds for polyethylene terephthalate suture. One of the UHMWPE sutures was capable of withstanding 3 seconds of direct contact with the RF probe without any compromise in tensile strength. No suture material tested had any mechanical change as long as the RF probe was kept 1 mm from the suture.
Heat from RF tissue ablation probes can cause undetected damage. High-strength UHMWPE sutures were less sensitive to an RF treatment than polyester sutures. The use of different test substrates did not significantly influence the burn through time.
Heat from RF probes can damage some suture material if direct contact is made even briefly. The use of RF devices may be safe for the suture when a distance between probe and suture of >1 mm is maintained. Suture made from UHMWPE may tolerate up to 3 seconds of RF probe contact and not sustain significant damage. Surgeons must use great care when using RF devices in the vicinity of suture placement.