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AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1994 Feb;162(2):355-60.

MR diagnosis of complete tears of the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee: importance of anterior subluxation of the tibia.

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  • 1Department of Radiology, University of California, San Francisco 94143.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

The primary role of the anterior cruciate ligament is to resist anterior subluxation of the tibia. When the ligament is torn, the tibia is free to sublux anteriorly when the leg is pulled forward. In addition to visualizing the anterior cruciate ligament directly, MR imaging can show joint alignment. The purpose of this study was to test the efficacy of MR images of anterior subluxation of the tibia for diagnosing complete tears of the anterior cruciate ligament.

MATERIALS AND METHODS:

We evaluated the records of 120 consecutive patients who underwent MR imaging of the knee and subsequently had arthroscopy. Arthroscopy showed a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in 21 patients, a partial tear in eight patients, and an intact anterior cruciate ligament in 91 patients. Two radiologists together reviewed the MR images, and interpretation of anterior cruciate ligament integrity was reached by consensus. The anterior cruciate ligament was categorized as intact, completely torn, or partially torn on the basis of conventional MR imaging criteria. The degree of anterior subluxation of the tibia was measured on a separate occasion in random order by a radiologist who used a sagittal section through the middle of the lateral femoral condyle. On the selected image, two vertical lines parallel to the left and right margins of the image frame were drawn tangent to the posterior cortical margins of the lateral femoral and tibial condyles. Anterior subluxation of the tibia was determined by the distance in millimeters between these two lines and measured with calipers by using the 5-cm scale on the images. Measurements were considered reliable only to one half of the smallest increment of this scale (i.e., 5 mm). Accordingly, tibial subluxation (x) was measured in 5-mm increments, with x < or = 0 mm designated grade 0, 0 mm < x < or = 5 mm designated grade 1, 5 mm < x < or = 10 mm designated grade 2, and so forth.

RESULTS:

Conventional MR imaging criteria had 90% sensitivity and 94% specificity for diagnosing complete tears of the anterior cruciate ligament. According to the receiver-operating-characteristic (ROC) curve, anterior subluxation of the tibia greater than 5 mm (grade 2 or greater) was considered to be the optimal threshold (sensitivity, 86%; specificity, 99%) for diagnosing complete tears of the anterior cruciate ligament. Notably, none of the six false-positive diagnoses of complete tears by conventional criteria (three partial tears and three intact ligaments at arthroscopy) were misdiagnosed when tibial subluxation was used as the diagnostic criterion. Subluxation greater than 5 mm can be falsely negative with chronic tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (n = 2) or when a displaced bucket-handle tear of the lateral meniscus blocks anterior subluxation of the tibia (n = 1).

CONCLUSION:

An anterior tibial subluxation greater than 5 mm (grade 2 or greater) is a simple objective measurement that serves as a helpful adjunctive sign in the diagnosis of complete tears of the anterior cruciate ligament. This sign also offers improved discrimination of complete from partial tears of the anterior cruciate ligament.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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