Objectives: To investigate changes in the knee during the first year after acute rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of volumes of joint fluid (JF), bone marrow lesions (BMLs), and cartilage volume (VC), and cartilage thickness (ThCcAB) and cartilage surface area (AC). To identify factors associated with these changes.
Methods: Fifty-eight subjects (mean age 26 years, 16 women) with an ACL rupture to a previously un-injured knee were followed prospectively using a 1.5T MR imager at baseline (within 5 weeks from injury), 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year. Thirty-four subjects were treated with ACL reconstruction followed by a structured rehabilitation program and 24 subjects were treated with structured rehabilitation only. Morphometric data were acquired from computer-assisted segmentation of MR images. Morphometric cartilage change was reported as mean change divided by the standard deviation of change (standard response mean, SRM).
Results: JF and BML volumes gradually decreased over the first year, although BML persisted in 62% of the knees after 1 year. One year after the ACL injury, a reduction of VC, AC and ThCcAB (SRM -0.440 or greater) was found in the trochlea femur (TrF), while an increase of VC and ThCcAB was found in the central medial femur (cMF) (SRM greater than 0.477). ACL reconstruction was directly and significantly related to increased JF volume at 3 and 6 months (P<0.001), BML volume at 6 months (P=0.031), VC and ThCcAB in cMF (P<0.002) and decreased cartilage area in TrF (P=0.010) at 12 months.
Conclusion: Following an acute ACL tear, cMF and TrF showed the greatest consistent changes of cartilage morphometry. An ACL reconstruction performed within a mean of 6 weeks from injury was associated with increased ThCcAB and VC in cMF and decreased AC in TrF, compared to knees treated without reconstruction. This may suggest a delayed structural restitution in ACL reconstructed knees.