Objective: To explore the role of meniscal tears and meniscal malposition as risk factors for subsequent cartilage loss in subjects with symptomatic osteoarthritis (OA).
Methods: Study subjects were patients with symptomatic knee OA from the Boston Osteoarthritis of the Knee Study. Baseline assessments included knee magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with followup MRI at 15 and 30 months. Cartilage and meniscal damage were scored on MRI in the medial and lateral tibiofemoral joints using the semiquantitative whole-organ magnetic resonance imaging score. Tibiofemoral cartilage was scored on MR images of all 5 plates of each tibiofemoral joint, and the meniscal position was measured using eFilm Workstation software. A proportional odds logistic regression model with generalized estimating equations was used to assess the effect of each predictor (meniscal position factor and meniscal damage as dichotomous predictors in each model) on cartilage loss in each of the 5 plates within a compartment. Models were adjusted for age, body mass index (BMI), tibial width, and sex.
Results: We assessed 257 subjects whose mean +/- SD age was 66.6 +/- 9.2 years and BMI was 31.5 +/- 5.7 kg/m2; 42% of subjects were female, and 77% of knees had a Kellgren/Lawrence radiographic severity grade > or = 2. In the medial tibiofemoral joint, each measure of meniscal malposition was associated with an increased risk of cartilage loss. There was also a strong association between meniscal damage and cartilage loss. Since meniscal coverage and meniscal height diminished with subluxation, less coverage and reduced height also increased the risk of cartilage loss.
Conclusion: This study highlights the importance of an intact and functioning meniscus in patients with symptomatic knee OA, since the findings demonstrate that loss of this function has important consequences for cartilage loss.