Objective: Chondromalacia patellae is a condition characterized by softening, fraying, and ulceration of patellar articular cartilage. We compare the sensitivity, specificity, and accuracy of conventional MR imaging, MR arthrography, and CT arthrography in detecting and staging this abnormality.
Subjects and methods: Twenty-seven patients with pain in the anterior part of the knee were prospectively examined with MR imaging, including T1-weighted (650/16), proton density-weighted (2000/20), T2-weighted (2000/80), and spoiled two-dimensional gradient-recalled acquisition in the steady state (SPGR/)/35 degrees (51/10) with fat saturation pulse sequences. All were also examined with T1-weighted MR imaging after intraarticular injection of dilute gadopentetate dimeglumine and with double-contrast CT arthrography. Each imaging technique was evaluated independently by two observers, who reached a consensus interpretation. The signal characteristics of cartilage on MR images and contour abnormalities noted with all imaging techniques were evaluated and graded according to a modification of the classification of Shahriaree. Twenty-six of the 54 facets examined had chondromalacia shown by arthroscopy, which was used as the standard of reference. The sensitivity, specificity, and accuracy of each imaging technique in the diagnosis of each stage of chondromalacia patellae were determined and compared by using the McNemar two-tailed analysis.
Results: Arthroscopy showed that 28 facets were normal. Grade 1 chondromalacia patellae was diagnosed only with MR and CT arthrography in two (29%) of seven facets. Intermediate (grade 2 or 3) chondromalacia patellae was detected in two (13%) of 15 facets with T1-weighted and SPGR MR imaging, in three (20%) of 15 facets with proton density-weighted MR imaging, in seven (47%) of 15 facets with T2-weighted MR imaging, in 11 (73%) of 15 facets with CT arthrography, and in 12 (80%) of 15 facets with MR arthrography. Grade 4 was detected in three (75%) of four facets with T1-, proton density-, and T2-weighted MR imaging, two (50%) of four facets with SPGR MR imaging, and four (100%) of four facets with MR and CT arthrography. Thus, all imaging techniques were insensitive to grade 1 lesions and highly sensitive to grade 4 lesions, so that no significant difference among the techniques could be shown.
Conclusion: All imaging techniques studied had high specificity and accuracy in the detection and grading of chondromalacia patella; however, both MR arthrography and CT arthrography were more sensitive than T1-weighted, proton density-weighted, and SPGR with fat saturation MR imaging for showing intermediate grades of chondromalacia patellae. Although the arthrographic techniques were not significantly better than T2-weighted imaging, the number of false-positive diagnoses was greatest with T2-weighted MR imaging.