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Extended report
Progression of osteoarthritis as a state of inertia
  1. David Felson1,
  2. Jingbo Niu1,
  3. Burton Sack1,
  4. Piran Aliabadi3,
  5. Charles McCullough2,
  6. Michael C Nevitt2
  1. 1Clinical Epidemiology Unit, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
  3. 3Department of Radiology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr David Felson, Clinical Epidemiology Research and Training Unit, Boston University School of Medicine, 650 Albany Street, Suite X200, Boston, MA 02118, USA; dfelson{at}


Objectives To test whether knees which recently developed disease were at higher risk for subsequent x-ray progression than knees which had been stable, suggesting that recent change produces further change and recent stability yields subsequent stability (a pattern of inertia).

Methods We used central readings of the annual posteroanterior x-rays obtained in the Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI) focusing on change in Kellgren and Lawrence (KL) grade and change in semiquantitative joint space. We examined whether knees that had developed incident disease (KL grade 2) were at higher risk of subsequent progression than knees that were already grade 2 and had had stable disease. We combined data from multiple examinations. Using generalised estimating equations to adjust for the correlation between knees, we carried out logistic regression evaluating the risk for disease progression testing incident versus stable disease adjusting for age, sex, body mass index, physical activity, quadriceps strength and mechanical alignment.

Results 1562 OAI subjects with grade 2 disease had a mean age of 61.8 years, mean BMI of 29.4, and 61.7% were women. Of knees with stable disease, 4.1% showed progression within the next 12 months in KL grade versus 13.7% in those with incident disease (adjusted OR 4.0; 95% CI 2.4 to 6.7). For progression of joint space loss, we found a similar relation with incident versus stable disease (adjusted OR 5.3; 95% CI 3.6 to 7.9).

Conclusions Knee osteoarthritis radiographic progression follows a pattern of inertia. Factors that trigger the transition from stable disease to progression should be sought.

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