Bone marrow edema and its relation to progression of knee osteoarthritis

Ann Intern Med. 2003 Sep 2;139(5 Pt 1):330-6. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-139-5_part_1-200309020-00008.


Background: While factors affecting the course of knee osteoarthritis are mostly unknown, lesions on bone scan and mechanical malalignment increase risk for radiographic deterioration. Bone marrow edema lesions on magnetic resonance imaging correspond to bone scan lesions.

Objective: To determine whether edema lesions in the subarticular bone in patients with knee osteoarthritis identify knees at high risk for radiographic progression and whether these lesions are associated with limb malalignment.

Design: Natural history study.

Setting: A Veterans Administration hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

Patients: Persons 45 years of age and older with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis.

Measurements: Baseline assessments included magnetic resonance imaging of the knee and fluoroscopically positioned radiography. During follow-up at 15 and 30 months, patients underwent repeated radiography; at 15 months, long-limb films were obtained to assess mechanical alignment. Progression was defined as an increase over follow-up in medial or lateral joint space narrowing, based on a semi-quantitative grading. Generalized estimating equations were used to evaluate the relation of medial bone marrow edema lesions to medial progression and lateral lesions to lateral progression, before and after adjustment for limb alignment.

Results: Of 256 patients, 223 (87.1%) participated in at least one follow-up examination. Medial bone marrow lesions were seen mostly in patients with varus limbs, and lateral lesions were seen mostly in those with valgus limbs. Twenty-seven of 75 knees with medial lesions (36.0%) showed medial progression versus 12 of 148 knees without lesions (8.1%) (odds ratio for progression, 6.5 [95% CI, 3.0 to 14.0]). Approximately 69% of knees that progressed medially had medial lesions, and lateral lesions conferred a marked risk for lateral progression. These increased risks were attenuated by 37% to 53% after adjustment for limb alignment.

Conclusion: Bone marrow edema is a potent risk factor for structural deterioration in knee osteoarthritis, and its relation to progression is explained in part by its association with limb alignment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Bone Marrow / diagnostic imaging
  • Bone Marrow / pathology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Edema / diagnostic imaging
  • Edema / pathology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / diagnostic imaging
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / pathology*
  • Radiography
  • Risk Factors