OBJECTIVES:To evaluate changes in patellofemoral cartilage thickness over 5 years after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury and to determine the impact of treatment strategy. METHODS:121 adults (ages 18-35 years, 26% women) had an ACL injury and participated in the KANON randomised controlled trial. Of those, 117 had available MRIs at baseline (<4 weeks post-ACL rupture) and at least one follow-up measurement (2, 5 years). Patellofemoral cartilage thickness was analysed by manual segmentation (blinded to acquisition order). Patellar, trochlear and total patellofemoral cartilage thickness changes were compared between as-randomised (rehabilitation+early ACL reconstruction (ACLR) (n=59) vs rehabilitation+optional delayed ACLR (n=58)) and as-treated groups (rehabilitation+early ACLR (n=59) vs rehabilitation +delayed ACLR (n=29) vs rehabilitation alone (n=29)). RESULTS:Patellofemoral cartilage thickness decreased -58 µm (95% CI -104 to -11 µm) over 5 years post-ACL rupture, with the greatest loss observed in trochlea during the first 2 years. Participants randomised to rehabilitation+early ACLR had significantly greater loss of patellar cartilage thickness compared with participants randomised to rehabilitation+optional delayed ACLR over the first 2 years (-25 µm (-52, 1 µm) vs +14 µm (-6 to 34 µm), p=0.02) as well as over 5 years (-36 µm (-78 to 5 µm) vs +18 µm (-7, 42 µm), p=0.02). There were no statistically significant differences in patellofemoral cartilage thickness changes between as-treated groups. CONCLUSION:Patellofemoral (particularly trochlear) cartilage thickness loss was observed in young adults following acute ACL rupture. Early ACLR was associated with greater patellofemoral (particularly patellar) cartilage thickness loss over 5 years compared with optional delayed ACLR, indicating that early surgical intervention may be associated with greater short-term structural patellofemoral cartilage deterioration compared with optional delayed surgery. TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER:ISRCTN84752559; Post-results.