Re-evaluating the functional implications of the Q-angle and its relationship to in-vivo patellofemoral kinematics

Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2014 Dec;29(10):1139-45. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2014.09.012. Epub 2014 Oct 7.


Background: The Q-angle is widely used clinically to evaluate individuals with anterior knee pain. Recent studies have questioned the utility of this measure and have suggested that a large Q-angle may not be associated with lateral patellofemoral translation, as often assumed. The objective of this study was to determine: 1) how accurately the Q-angle represents the line-of-action of the quadriceps and 2) if adding active quadriceps contraction or a bent knee position to the measurement of the Q-angle improves its reliability, accuracy, and association with patellofemoral kinematics.

Methods: The study included individuals diagnosed with chronic idiopathic patellofemoral pain and control subjects (n=43 and n=30 knees). Three measures of the clinical Q-angle (straight- and bent-knee with relaxed quadriceps and straight-knee with maximum isometric quadriceps contraction) were obtained with a goniometer and compared to a fourth MR-based measure of Q-angle. Patellofemoral kinematics were derived from dynamic cine-phase contrast images, acquired while subjects extended/flexed their knee from approximately 0° and 45°.

Findings: The Q-angle did not represent the line-of-action of the quadriceps. The average difference between each clinical and the MR-based Q-angle ranged from 5° to 8°. These differences varied greatly across subjects (range: -28.5° to 3.9(o)). Adding an active quadriceps contraction or a bent knee position, did not improve the reliability of the Q-angle. An increased Q-angle correlated to medial patellar displacement and tilt (r=0.38-0.54, P<0.001) in the cohort with anterior knee pain.

Interpretation: Clinicians are cautioned against using the Q-angle to infer patellofemoral kinematics.

Keywords: Kinematics; Knee; Magnetic resonance imaging; Patellofemoral joint; Patellofemoral pain syndrome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction
  • Knee Joint / physiopathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Quadriceps Muscle / physiology*
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Young Adult