Mass effect and signal intensity alteration in the suprapatellar fat pad: associations with knee symptoms and structure

Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2014 Oct;22(10):1619-26. doi: 10.1016/j.joca.2014.05.018. Epub 2014 Jun 2.


Objective: To describe cross-sectional associations between mass effect or signal intensity alteration of the suprapatellar fat pad (SPFP) with knee symptoms and structure in older adults.

Methods: A cross-sectional sample of 904 randomly selected subjects (mean 62.4 years, 49.9% female) was studied. T1- or T2-weighted fat suppressed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to assess mass effect or signal intensity alteration of SPFP, cartilage volume, cartilage defects, and bone marrow lesions (BMLs). Knee pain was assessed by self-administered Western Ontario McMaster Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) questionnaire. The Osteoarthritis Research Society International (OARSI) atlas was used to assess knee osteophyte, joint space narrowing (JSN) and radiographic osteoarthritis (ROA). Univariable and multivariable linear or logistic regression analyses were used to examine the associations.

Results: After adjustment for confounders including age, sex, body mass index (BMI), disease status, tibial bone area and/or ROA, the presence of SPFP mass effect was significantly associated with any knee pain (OR: 2.39; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.54, 3.70) and ROA (OR: 2.10; 95% CI: 1.33, 3.31) but not with cartilage volume, cartilage defects or BMLs. The presence of SPFP signal intensity alteration was significantly associated with any knee pain (OR: 1.90; 95% CI: 1.43, 2.53), ROA (OR: 1.83; 95% CI: 1.37, 2.45), any BMLs (OR: 1.55; 95% CI: 1.17, 2.06) but not with cartilage volume and cartilage defects. Significant associations with knee pain and BMLs were more evident in subjects with ROA. Presence of SPFP mass effect and/or signal intensity alteration combined was associated with any tibial cartilage defects (OR: 1.45; 95% CI: 1.04, 2.04).

Conclusions: SPFP mass effect and/or signal intensity alterations are deleteriously associated with knee pain, radiographic OA and BMLs in this cross-sectional study, suggesting that SPFP abnormalities may contribute to pain and structural abnormalities in the knee.

Keywords: Osteoarthritis; Pain; Suprapatellar fat pad.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / diagnostic imaging
  • Adipose Tissue / pathology*
  • Aged
  • Arthralgia / diagnostic imaging
  • Arthralgia / etiology
  • Arthralgia / pathology*
  • Bone Marrow Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Bone Marrow Diseases / etiology
  • Bone Marrow Diseases / pathology
  • Cartilage Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Cartilage Diseases / etiology
  • Cartilage Diseases / pathology*
  • Cartilage, Articular
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint / diagnostic imaging
  • Knee Joint / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / complications
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / diagnostic imaging
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / pathology*
  • Osteophyte / diagnostic imaging
  • Osteophyte / etiology
  • Osteophyte / pathology
  • Patella / diagnostic imaging
  • Patella / pathology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiography