Sixty-nine patients with traumatic knee hemarthrosis were evaluated an average of 3 days after trauma by high field (1.5T) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) using sagittal T1, T2-weighted and coronal 3D-gradient echo images. All knees were arthroscopically examined shortly afterwards. The diagnostic validity of MRI for intraarticular pathology was determined using arthroscopy as golden standard. All patients had pathological findings on arthroscopy. The injuries were sports-related in 77% of the cases. MRI was highly sensitive (86%) and specific (92%) for diagnosis of anterior cruciate ligament tears. Diagnosis of medial meniscal tears showed a 74% sensitivity and 66% specificity. MRI detected lateral meniscal tears in 50% with an 84% specificity. As such, MRI missed 10 significant meniscus ruptures requiring surgical treatment. The sensitivity for partial or total medial collateral ligament tears was 56%, the specificity 93%. Rupture of the medial retinaculum in cases with patellar dislocation or significant damage of articular cartilage were only detected by MRI in a few cases (27% and 20% sensitivity, respectively). MRIs low diagnostic validity for intraarticular pathology with hemarthrosis may be attributed to the shifting paramagnetic properties of the blood remains and catabolic processes in meniscal and chondral tissues during the hemoglobin degradation process. Accordingly, MRI, with the technique used, could neither replace arthroscopy in the diagnosis and screening of acute knee injuries, nor select patients with need for immediate arthroscopic meniscal surgery.