Factors affecting articular cartilage thickness in osteoarthritis and aging

J Rheumatol. 1994 Jul;21(7):1310-8.


Objective: To test the hypothesis that both aging and osteoarthritis (OA) contribute to the variance of human articular cartilage thickness of the knee and whether these contributions occur predominantly at weight bearing cartilage sites.

Methods: Thin, sagittal magnetic resonance images (MRI) of both knees were examined in 52 patients with idiopathic OA of the knee of short duration (87%: < or = 4 years) and 40 reference subjects of comparable age and sex distribution. Articular cartilage thickness was measured at the weight bearing and nonweight bearing femoral condylar, tibial plateau, and posterior patellar sites. Multiple regression analyses were performed to examine the influence of OA, age, sex, obesity (body mass index), and bone size on cartilage thickness.

Results: Age accounted for a significant linear decrease (p < 0.001) in both lateral and medial weight bearing femoral cartilage thickness of both knees, but failed to account for any significant variance in thickness at other cartilage sites. OA accounted for a significant decrease (p < 0.02) in the thickness of the femoral articular cartilage in the medial and lateral right knee compartments and in the lateral left knee compartment, but not in the medial left knee compartment. Significant cartilage thinning could be detected by MRI in patients with OA, even when the joint space was normal radiographically.

Conclusion: The asymmetric decrease in the left knee may reflect the effect of mechanical factors. Our data show that articular cartilage thickness decreases at the femoral weight bearing sites both with age and as a consequence of OA and that these contributions can be distinguished from one another.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Cartilage, Articular / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis / diagnosis*
  • Reference Values
  • Regression Analysis