Open Access Research article

A systematic review of the etiopathogenesis of Kienböck's disease and a critical appraisal of its recognition as an occupational disease related to hand-arm vibration

Stéphane Stahl1, Adelana Santos Stahl2*, Christoph Meisner3, Afshin Rahmanian-Schwarz1, Hans-Eberhard Schaller1 and Oliver Lotter1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Plastic, Hand and Reconstructive Surgery, Burn Center, BG-Trauma Center, Eberhard-Karl University of Tübingen, Schnarrenbergstr. 95, Tübingen, 72076, Germany

2 Department for Plastic Surgery, Marienhospital Stuttgart, Böheimstr. 37, Stuttgart 70199, Germany

3 Department of Medical Biometry, Eberhard-Karl University of Tübingen, Westbahnhofstr. 55, Tübingen, 72070, Germany

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2012, 13:225  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-13-225

Published: 21 November 2012



We systematically reviewed etiological factors of Kienböck’s disease (osteonecrosis of the lunate) discussed in the literature in order to examine the justification for including Kienböck’s disease (KD) in the European Listing of Occupational Diseases.


We searched the Ovid/Medline and the Cochrane Library for articles discussing the etiology of osteonecrosis of the lunate published since the first description of KD in 1910 and up until July 2012 in English, French or German. Literature was classified by the level of evidence presented, the etiopathological hypothesis discussed, and the author's conclusion about the role of the etiopathological hypothesis. The causal relationship between KD and hand-arm vibration was elucidated by the Bradford Hill criteria.


A total of 220 references was found. Of the included 152 articles, 140 (92%) reached the evidence level IV (case series). The four most frequently discussed factors were negative ulnar variance (n=72; 47%), primary arterial ischemia of the lunate (n=63; 41%), trauma (n=63; 41%) and hand-arm vibration (n=53; 35%). The quality of the cohort studies on hand-arm vibration did not permit a meta-analysis to evaluate the strength of an association to KD. Evidence for the lack of consistency, plausibility and coherence of the 4 most frequently discussed etiopathologies was found. No evidence was found to support any of the nine Bradford Hill criteria for a causal relationship between KD and hand-arm vibration.


A systematic review of 220 articles on the etiopathology of KD and the application of the Bradford Hill criteria does not provide sufficient scientific evidence to confirm or refute a causal relationship between KD and hand-arm vibration. This currently suggests that, KD does not comply with the criteria of the International Labour Organization determining occupational diseases. However, research with a higher level of evidence is required to further determine if hand-arm vibration is a risk factor for KD.

Lunate necrosis; Kienböck’s disease; Etiopathogenesis; Occupational disease; Systematic review