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Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2011 Jun;19(6):683-8. doi: 10.1016/j.joca.2011.02.008. Epub 2011 Feb 15.

Natural history of cartilage damage and osteoarthritis progression on magnetic resonance imaging in a population-based cohort with knee pain.

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Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada; Arthritis Research Centre of Canada, Vancouver, BC, Canada.



To determine the natural history of cartilage damage and of osteoarthritis (OA) progression using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); to evaluate whether OA progression varies by stage of disease.


A population-based cohort with knee pain was assessed clinically, with X-ray (Kellgren-Lawrence [KL] grading) and MRI. Cartilage was graded 0-3 on six joint surfaces. Frequency of cartilage damage change was determined for each joint site. Progression of OA was defined as a worsening of MRI cartilage damage by ≥1 grade in at least two joint sites or ≥2 grades in at least one joint site. The association of KL grade with OA progression was evaluated using parametric lifetime regression analysis.


163 subjects were assessed at baseline and follow-up (mean 3.2 years). KL grade ≥2 was present in 39.4% at baseline. An increase in cartilage damage by ≥1 grade was seen in 8.0-14.1% of subjects at different joint sites. OA progression on MRI was present in 15.5%. Baseline KL grade was a significant predictor of OA progression with hazard ratio (HR) of 6.5 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.4-30.7), 6.1 (95% CI 1.3-28.9), and 9.2 (95% CI 1.9-44.9) for KL grades 1, 2 and ≥3, respectively.


A low OA progression rate was seen over 3 years in this population-based symptomatic cohort. Radiographic severity, including KL grade 1, was a significant predictor of OA progression. Future interventions aimed at reducing progression will need to target not only radiographic OA, but also those with early abnormalities suggestive of pre-radiographic OA.

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