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Early knee OA definition-what do we know at this stage? An imaging perspective.

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Li, Xiaojuan 
Cicuttini, Flavia 
MacKay, Jamie W 
Turmezei, Tom 


While criteria for early-stage knee osteoarthritis (OA) in a primary care setting have been proposed, the role of imaging has been limited to radiography using the standard Kellgren-Lawrence classification. Standardized imaging and interpretation are critical with radiographs, yet studies have also shown that even early stages of radiographic OA already demonstrate advanced damage to knee joint tissues such as cartilage, menisci, and bone marrow. Morphological magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) shows degenerative damage earlier than radiographs and definitions for OA using MRI have been published though no accepted definition of early OA based on MRI is currently available. The clinical significance of structural abnormalities has also not been well defined, and the differentiation between normal aging and structural OA development remains a challenge. Compositional MRI of cartilage provides information on biochemical, degenerative changes within the cartilage matrix before cartilage defects occur and when cartilage damage is potentially reversible. Studies have shown that cartilage composition can predict cartilage loss and radiographic OA. However, while this technology is most promising for characterizing early OA it has currently limited clinical application. Better standardization of compositional MRI is required, which is currently work in progress. Finally, there has been renewed interest in computed tomography (CT) for assessing early knee OA as new techniques such as weight bearing and spectral CT are available, which may provide information on joint loading, cartilage, and bone and potentially have a role in better characterizing early OA. In conclusion, while imaging may have a limited role in diagnosing early OA in a primary care setting, there are advanced imaging technologies available, which detect early degeneration and may thus significantly alter management as new therapeutic modalities evolve.



CT, MRI, imaging, osteoarthritis, radiographs

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Ther Adv Musculoskelet Dis

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SAGE Publications