High Prevalence of Anterolateral Ligament Abnormalities on MRI in Knees With Acute Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries: A Case-Control Series From the SANTI Study Group

Orthop J Sports Med. 2019 Jun 25;7(6):2325967119852916. doi: 10.1177/2325967119852916. eCollection 2019 Jun.


Background: Broad variation in the reported rate of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-detected abnormalities of the anterolateral structures of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)-injured knee suggests a lack of reliability that has limited the use of MRI in clinical decision making.

Purpose/hypothesis: The aim of this study was to use MRI to determine the prevalence and spectrum of abnormalities of the anterolateral structures in acute ACL-injured knees, using the contralateral uninjured knee as a reference. We hypothesized that MRI evaluation of the acutely injured knee (using the uninjured knee as a reference) would allow reliable identification of abnormalities of the anterolateral structures.

Study design: Cohort study (diagnosis); Level of evidence, 3.

Methods: Patients with acute ACL injury underwent MRI scan of both knees. Images were evaluated by 3 observers. Inter- and intraobserver reliabilities were determined for MRI parameters of anterolateral ligament (ALL) injury by use of the kappa (κ) test. Univariate and multivariate analyses were conducted to test associations between ALL abnormality and associated injuries.

Results: A total of 34 patients were evaluated. Of these, 30 patients (88.2%) had at least 1 ALL abnormality in the ACL-injured knee (increased signal: n = 27[79.4%]; increased thickness: n = 15[44.1%]; tapering: n = 7[20.6%]; irregularities in the path of the ALL fibers: n = 21[61.7%]). Asymmetries of the genicular vessels were observed in 21 patients (61.7%). ALL abnormality was significantly associated with lateral joint capsular tears (P < .001). No correlation was found between ALL lesions and iliotibial band lesions (P = .49). Inter- and intraobserver reliabilities were very good concerning ALL signal changes and femoral and tibial bone bruises (κ coefficient, 0.81-1).

Conclusion: MRI evaluation of the ALL was associated with good and very good inter- and intraobserver reliabilities, and it demonstrated abnormalities of the ALL in the majority of acutely ACL-injured knees. The index of suspicion for ALL injury should be elevated by the presence of lesions of the lateral capsule. This suggests that the ALL is part of a wider area of the lateral capsule that is often injured simultaneously in an acute ACL tear.

Keywords: ACL rupture; MRI; anterolateral knee injury.