A comparative assessment of alignment angle of the knee by radiographic and physical examination methods

Arthritis Rheum. 2005 Jun;52(6):1730-5. doi: 10.1002/art.21100.


Objective: To compare the knee-alignment angle from a full-limb radiograph (mechanical axis) with the anatomic-axis angle as measured by physical examination using a goniometer and by 2 other radiographic methods.

Methods: The knee-alignment angle was measured in 114 knees of 57 subjects who had radiographic osteoarthritis (OA), with a Kellgren/Lawrence grade of >/=1 in at least one knee. The mechanical axis was defined as the angle formed by the intersection of 2 lines, one from the center of the head of the femur to the center of the tibial spines, and a second from the center of the talus to the center of the tibial spines. The anatomic axis was defined as the angle formed by 2 lines, each originating from a point bisecting the femur and tibia and converging at the center of the tibial spine tips. The anatomic-axis angle was measured by 3 methods: 1) physical examination using a goniometer, 2) a posteroanterior (PA) fixed-flexion knee radiograph (anatomic(PA) axis), and 3) an anteroposterior (AP) full-limb radiograph (anatomic(AP) axis).

Results: Significant correlations were found between the mechanical-axis angle and the anatomic-axis angle measured by each of the 3 methods: by goniometer (r = 0.70, P < 0.0001), by anatomic(PA) axis (r = 0.75, P < 0.0001), and by anatomic(AP) axis (r = 0.65, P < 0.0001). The anatomic axis was offset a mean 4.21 degrees valgus from the mechanical axis (3.5 degrees in women, 6.4 degrees in men), which was consistent across all methods.

Conclusion: Knee alignment assessed clinically by goniometer or measured on a knee radiograph is correlated with the angle measured on the more cumbersome and costly full-limb radiograph. These alternative measures have the potential to provide useful information regarding the risk of progression of knee OA when a full-limb radiograph is not available.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint / anatomy & histology
  • Knee Joint / diagnostic imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / diagnosis*
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / diagnostic imaging
  • Physical Examination / methods
  • Radiography
  • Trabeculectomy