An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury is a well-established risk factor for the long-term development of radiographic osteoarthritis (OA). However, little is known about the early degenerative changes (ie, <5 years after injury) of individual joint features (ie, cartilage, bone marrow), which may be reversible and responsive to interventions.
To describe early degenerative changes between 1 and 5 years after ACL reconstruction (ACLR) on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and explore participant characteristics associated with these changes.
Case-control study; Level of evidence, 3.
Seventy-eight participants (48 men; median age, 32 years; median body mass index [BMI], 26 kg/m2) underwent 3.0-T MRI at 1 and 5 years after primary hamstring autograft ACLR. Early tibiofemoral and patellofemoral OA features were assessed with the MRI Osteoarthritis Knee Score. The primary outcome was worsening (ie, incident or progressive) cartilage defects, bone marrow lesions (BMLs), osteophytes, and meniscal lesions. Logistic regression with generalized estimating equations evaluated participant characteristics associated with worsening features.
Worsening of cartilage defects in any compartment occurred in 40 (51%) participants. Specifically, worsening in the patellofemoral and medial and lateral tibiofemoral compartments was present in 34 (44%), 8 (10%), and 10 (13%) participants, respectively. Worsening patellofemoral and medial and lateral tibiofemoral BMLs (14 [18%], 5 [6%], and 10 [13%], respectively) and osteophytes (7 [9%], 8 [10%], and 6 [8%], respectively) were less prevalent, while 17 (22%) displayed deteriorating meniscal lesions. Worsening of at least 1 MRI-detected OA feature, in either the patellofemoral or tibiofemoral compartment, occurred in 53 (68%) participants. Radiographic OA in any compartment was evident in 5 (6%) and 16 (21%) participants at 1 and 5 years, respectively. A high BMI (>25 kg/m2) was consistently associated with elevated odds (between 2- and 5-fold) of worsening patellofemoral and tibiofemoral OA features.
High rates of degenerative changes occur in the first 5 years after ACLR, particularly the development and progression of patellofemoral cartilage defects. Older patients with a higher BMI may be at particular risk and should be educated about this risk.