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Impact of different descriptions of the Kellgren and Lawrence classification criteria on the diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis


Objectives Although the Kellgren and Lawrence (K&L) criteria for defining radiological osteoarthritis are widely used in epidemiological and clinical studies, the authors previously documented the existence of five different versions of these criteria. This study identifies the impact of the use of alternative versions of the K&L criteria and evaluates which description has the highest association with knee complaints.

Methods Two readers scored most radiographs of the knees of participants of the Rotterdam Study with the original K&L description (90%). In addition, each alternative description was used in a random part (20%) of the radiographs. The authors calculated reproducibility of all descriptions, and compared sensitivity and specificity of the alternative descriptions for three cut-off points with the original description as reference standard (K&L≥1, K&L≥2 and K&L≥3). The authors calculated κ statistics to compare agreement between the original and alternative descriptions, and evaluated the association with knee complaints.

Results The dataset comprises radiographs of knees of 3071 people. For cut-off K&L≥1 all four alternatives classified more people as having osteoarthritis than the original description; κ was low, and sensitivity and specificity were moderate to good. For cut-offs K&L≥2 and K&L≥3 there was little difference in the number of cases and κ, sensitivity and specificity were good to perfect. The original description and alternative 3 showed the strongest association with knee complaints.

Conclusions The different descriptions of the K&L criteria have impact on the classification of osteoarthritis in the lowest grade (K&L≥1). All descriptions have strengths and weaknesses. It depends on the purpose which is the best description.

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