Does Cartilage Degenerate in Asymptomatic Hips With Cam Morphology?

Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2019 May;477(5):962-971. doi: 10.1097/CORR.0000000000000629.


Background: The management of asymptomatic individuals with cam femoral morphology that predisposes their hips to femoroacetabular impingement has received little attention. Such hips may have subclinical articular damage; however, whether this cartilage damage will progress is unknown as is whether any particular bone morphologies are associated with this progression. Such knowledge could help determine the natural history and guide management of such individuals.

Questions/purposes: The purpose of this study was to determine whether (1) asymptomatic hips with cam morphology are at risk of further cartilage degeneration (as evaluated by T1ρ); (2) T1ρ changes are predictive of symptom onset; and (3) bony morphologic parameters are associated with T1ρ signal changes.

Methods: In a prospective, longitudinal study, 17 asymptomatic volunteers/hips (16 men; 33 ± 6 years) with cam morphology underwent two T1ρ MRI scans and functional assessment (WOMAC) at recruitment and at 4 years (range, 2-6 years). Volunteers were recruited from a previous study, which reported on the prevalence of cam morphology among asymptomatic individuals using hip MRI; cam morphology was defined as an α angle ≥ 60° anterolaterally and/or ≥ 50.5° anteriorly relative to the neck axis. The differences in T1ρ values (ΔT1ρ) and relative differences (%ΔT1ρ) were calculated as: ΔT1ρ = T1ρFollowup - T1ρInitial and %ΔT1ρ = ΔT1ρ/T1ρInitial. A %ΔT1ρ > 17.6% was considered clinically important. Using CT data, femoral, acetabular, and spinopelvic parameters were measured. Whether ΔT1ρ and/or %ΔT1ρ was associated with any of the bone morphologic parameters was tested using Spearman's correlation coefficient.

Results: The global T1ρ in these asymptomatic hips with cam morphology remained unchanged between initial (mean, 35 ± 5 ms) and followup scans (mean, 34 ± 3 ms; p = 0.518). No differences with the numbers available in T1ρ values were seen initially between the anterolateral and posterolateral (34 ± 6 ms versus 33 ± 4 ms; p = 0.734) regions; at followup, T1 values were higher posterolaterally (36 ± 5 ms versus 32 ± 5 ms; p = 0.031). The mean global ΔT1ρ was 1 ± 5 ms (95% confidence interval, -1 to +3 ms) and the mean global %ΔT1ρ was 2% ± 13%. Two volunteers reported lower WOMAC scores; one patient exhibited a clinically important increase in %ΔT1ρ (-26%). The degree of acetabular coverage correlated with %ΔT1ρ (rho = 0.59-0.61, p = 0.002); the lesser the acetabular coverage anterolaterally, the greater the corresponding area's T1ρ at followup.

Conclusions: Although signs of posterolateral joint degeneration were detected, these were not generally associated with symptoms, and only one of the two volunteers with the onset of symptoms had a clinically important increase in %ΔT1ρ. We found that reduced acetabular coverage may increase the likelihood that preclinical cartilage degeneration will arise within 2 to 6 years; thereby reduced acetabular coverage should be considered when stratifying asymptomatic hips at risk of degeneration. Future studies should be performed with a larger cohort and include femoral version among the parameters studied.

Level of evidence: Level II, diagnostic study.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cartilage, Articular / diagnostic imaging
  • Cartilage, Articular / pathology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Femoracetabular Impingement / diagnostic imaging
  • Femoracetabular Impingement / pathology*
  • Hip Joint / diagnostic imaging
  • Hip Joint / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed