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Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2012 Oct;20(10):1120-6. Epub 2012 Jun 12.

Elevated tibiofemoral articular contact stress predicts risk for bone marrow lesions and cartilage damage at 30 months.

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Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, The University of Iowa, Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City, IA 52242-1088, USA.



As cartilage loss and bone marrow lesions (BMLs) are associated with knee joint pain and structural worsening, this study assessed whether non-invasive estimates of articular contact stress may longitudinally predict risk for worsening of knee cartilage morphology and BMLs.


This was a longitudinal cohort study of adults aged 50-79 years with risk factors for knee osteoarthritis. Baseline and follow-up measures included whole-organ magnetic resonance imaging score (WORMS) classification of knee cartilage morphology and BMLs. Tibiofemoral geometry was manually segmented on baseline magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and three-dimensional (3D) tibiofemoral point clouds were registered into subject-specific loaded apposition using fixed-flexion knee radiographs. Discrete element analysis (DEA) was used to estimate mean and peak contact stresses for the medial and lateral compartments. The association of baseline contact stress with worsening cartilage and BMLs in the same subregion over 30 months was assessed using conditional logistic regression.


Subjects (N = 38, 60.5% female) had a mean ± standard deviation (SD) age and body mass index (BMI) of 63.5 ± 8.4 years and 30.5 ± 3.7 kg/m2 respectively. Elevated mean articular contact stress at baseline was associated with worsening cartilage morphology and worsening BMLs by 30 months, with odds ratio (OR) [95% confidence interval (CI)] of 4.0 (2.5, 6.4) and 6.6 (2.7, 16.5) respectively. Peak contact stress also was significantly associated with worsening cartilage morphology and BMLs {1.9 (1.5, 2.3) and 2.3 (1.5, 3.6)}(all P < 0.0001).


Detection of higher contact stress 30 months prior to structural worsening suggests an etiological role for mechanical loading. Estimation of articular contact stress with DEA is an efficient and accurate means of predicting subregion-specific knee joint worsening and may be useful in guiding prognosis and treatment.

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