Greater rates of cartilage loss in painful knees than in pain-free knees after adjustment for radiographic disease stage: data from the osteoarthritis initiative

Arthritis Rheum. 2011 Aug;63(8):2257-67. doi: 10.1002/art.30414.


Objective: To investigate whether rates of cartilage loss differ in knees with frequent baseline pain versus those without pain, after adjustment for radiographic osteoarthritis (OA) stage.

Methods: One knee in each of 718 Osteoarthritis Initiative participants was examined: 310 with calculated Kellgren/Lawrence (K/L) grade 2, 299 with calculated K/L grade 3, and 109 with calculated K/L grade 4. Twelve-month change in (subregional) cartilage thickness was assessed by magnetic resonance imaging. Change in cartilage thickness in the central subregion of the weight-bearing medial femoral condyle and ordered value 1 (OV1) were selected as primary end points. Frequent knee symptoms were defined as pain, aching, or stiffness on most days of at least 1 month during the previous year.

Results: The mean 12-month rate of change in cartilage thickness in the central subregion of the medial femoral condyle was -12 μm (standardized response mean [SRM] -0.15) in knees without pain (n = 146), -27 μm (SRM -0.25) in those with infrequent pain (n = 255), and -54 μm (SRM -0.32) in those with frequent pain (n = 317). Rates differed significantly between frequently painful knees and pain-free knees after adjustment for age, sex, body mass index, and calculated K/L grade (P = 0.011, R(2) = 2.6%, partial R(2) for frequent pain = 1.4%). Similar results were found in stratified samples of calculated K/L grade 2/calculated K/L grade 3 knees, and in analyses restricted to knees with consistent pain frequency between baseline and followup. OV1 results showed similar trends but were not significant.

Conclusion: Knees with frequent pain display greater rates of medial cartilage loss longitudinally than knees without pain, with or without adjustment or stratification for radiographic disease stage. Enrollment of participants with frequent knee pain in clinical trials can increase the observed rate of structural progression (i.e., cartilage loss) and sensitivity to change.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cartilage, Articular / diagnostic imaging
  • Cartilage, Articular / pathology*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint / diagnostic imaging
  • Knee Joint / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / diagnostic imaging
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / pathology*
  • Pain / diagnostic imaging
  • Pain / pathology*
  • Radiography
  • Weight-Bearing