Objective: To evaluate the effect of meniscal damage on the development of frequent knee pain, aching, or stiffness in middle-aged and older adults.
Methods: The Multicenter Osteoarthritis Study is a prospective study of 3,026 individuals 50 years of age or older who have or are at high risk of developing knee osteoarthritis (OA). We investigated knees at baseline and at 15 months. Case knees (n = 110) were those with no pain, aching, or stiffness on most days at baseline, but that had developed frequent pain, aching, or stiffness at 15 months. Control knees (n = 220) were drawn randomly from knees with no frequent symptoms at baseline that did not become case knees. Using 1.0T magnetic resonance imaging performed at baseline and at followup, 2 musculoskeletal radiologists blinded to the case-control status assessed the meniscal damage using the following scale: 0 = intact, 1 = minor tear, 2 = nondisplaced tear or prior surgical repair, and 3 = displaced tear, resection, maceration, or destruction. The effect of meniscal damage was analyzed by contingency tables and logistic regression.
Results: Meniscal damage was common at baseline both in case knees (38%) and in control knees (29%). Although there was a modest association between the meniscal damage score (range 0-3) and the development of frequent knee pain, aching, or stiffness (odds ratio [OR] 1.21, 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 0.96-1.51, adjusted for age, sex, and body mass index), meniscal damage was mostly present in knees with OA. When considering the co-occurrence of OA, we found no independent association between meniscal damage and the development of frequent knee symptoms (OR 1.05, 95% CI 0.80-1.37).
Conclusion: In middle-aged and older adults, any association between meniscal damage and the development of frequent knee pain seems to be present because both pain and meniscal damage are related to OA and not because of a direct link between the two.