Ann Rheum Dis 63:264-268 doi:10.1136/ard/2003.007666
  • Extended report

How does tibial cartilage volume relate to symptoms in subjects with knee osteoarthritis?

  1. A E Wluka1,
  2. R Wolfe1,
  3. S Stuckey2,
  4. F M Cicuttini1
  1. 1Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Alfred Hospital, Prahran, 3181, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2MRI Unit, Radiology Department, Alfred Hospital, Prahran, 3181, Australia
  1. Correspondence to:
    Associate Professor F Cicuttini
    Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University Medical School, Alfred Hospital, Prahran, Victoria, 3181, Australia;
  • Accepted 14 June 2003


Background: No consistent relationship between the severity of symptoms of knee osteoarthritis (OA) and radiographic change has been demonstrated.

Objectives: To determine the relationship between symptoms of knee OA and tibial cartilage volume, whether pain predicts loss of cartilage in knee OA, and whether change in cartilage volume over time relates to change in symptoms over the same period.

Method: 132 subjects with symptomatic, early (mild to moderate) knee OA were studied. At baseline and 2 years later, participants had MRI scans of their knee and completed questionnaires quantifying symptoms of knee OA (knee-specific WOMAC: pain, stiffness, function) and general physical and mental health (SF-36). Tibial cartilage volume was determined from the MRI images.

Results: Complete data were available for 117 (89%) subjects. A weak association was found between tibial cartilage volume and symptoms at baseline. The severity of the symptoms of knee OA at baseline did not predict subsequent tibial cartilage loss. However, weak associations were seen between worsening of symptoms of OA and increased cartilage loss: pain (rs = 0.28, p = 0.002), stiffness (rs = 0.17, p = 0.07), and deterioration in function (rs = 0.21, p = 0.02).

Conclusion: Tibial cartilage volume is weakly associated with symptoms in knee OA. There is a weak association between loss of tibial cartilage and worsening of symptoms. This suggests that although cartilage is not a major determinant of symptoms in knee OA, it does relate to symptoms.