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Correlations between radiological classification systems and confirmed cartilage loss in severe knee osteoarthritis

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Although knee osteoarthritis (OA) is diagnosed and monitored radiologically, actual full-thickness cartilage loss (FTCL) has rarely been correlated with radiological classification. This study aims to analyze which classification system correlates best with FTCL and to assess their reliability.


A prospective study of 300 consecutive patients undergoing unilateral total knee arthroplasty (TKA) for OA (mean age 69 years (44 to 91; standard deviation (SD) 9.5), 178 (59%) female). Two blinded examiners independently graded preoperative radiographs using five common systems: Kellgren-Lawrence (KL); International Knee Documentation Committee (IKDC); Fairbank; Brandt; and Ahlbäck. Interobserver agreement was assessed using the intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC). Intraoperatively, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) status and the presence of FTCL in 16 regions of interest were recorded. Radiological classification and FTCL were correlated using the Spearman correlation coefficient.


Knees had a mean of 6.8 regions of FTCL (SD 3.1), most common medially. The commonest patterns of FTCL were medial ± patellofemoral (143/300, 48%) and tricompartmental (89/300, 30%). ACL status was associated with pattern of FTCL (p = 0.023). All radiological classification systems demonstrated moderate ICC, but this was highest for the IKDC: whole knee 0.68 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.60 to 0.74); medial compartment 0.84 (95% CI 0.80 to 0.87); and lateral compartment 0.79 (95% CI 0.73 to 0.83). Correlation with actual FTCL was strongest for Ahlbäck (Spearman rho 0.27 to 0.39) and KL (0.30 to 0.33) systems, although all systems demonstrated medium correlation. The Ahlbäck score was the most discriminating in severe knee OA. Osteophyte presence in the medial compartment had high positive predictive value (PPV) for FTCL, but not in the lateral compartment.


The Ahlbäck and KL systems had the highest correlation with confirmed cartilage loss at TKA. However, the IKDC system displayed the best interobserver reliability, with favourable correlation with FTCL in medial and lateral compartments, although it was less discriminating in more severe disease.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2020;102-B(3):301–309

Correspondence should be sent to Oisin J. F. Keenan; E-mail:

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