The Bow Tie Shape of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament as Visualized by High-Resolution Magnetic Resonance Imaging

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Although numerous studies have examined the anatomic characteristics of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), its actual shape remains unclear.


To determine the average shape of the ACL by analyzing its cross section through the use of high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data.

Study Design:

Descriptive laboratory study.


The study included 96 MRIs, conducted using a 3.0-T magnet, to analyze the shape of the ACL. Three-dimensional, curved multiplanar reconstruction was used to obtain cross sections at 7 points (femoral insertion; midsubstance 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 from the femoral side to the tibial side; and tibial insertion). The width and thickness of cross sections were measured by 2 independent observers, and the ratio of width to thickness was calculated to determine the proportions of each cross section. The 7 cross sections were accumulated and standardized to generate an average model through the use of image analysis software developed by the authors.


The mean ± SD width (femoral insertion, 17.02 ± 2.17 mm; tibial insertion, 17.33 ± 2.03 mm) and thickness (femoral insertion, 11.03 ± 1.75 mm; tibial insertion, 10.09 ± 1.70 mm) of both insertions were significantly larger than those of midsubstance 4 (width, 9.99 ± 1.87 mm; thickness, 6.53 ± 1.25 mm) (P < .001). The mean ratios of width to thickness of the 7 cross sections from femoral insertion to tibial insertion were 1.57 ± 0.23, 3.36 ± 0.57, 3.07 ± 0.81, 2.18 ± 0.54, 1.56 ± 0.32, 2.16 ± 0.48, and 1.75 ± 0.28, respectively. The shape of the cross section at midsubstance 4 was an oval isthmus, which was the most narrow and well-balanced shape. It was transformed into a wide band at midsubstance 1 and 5. The shape of the femoral insertion was semicircular, with its anterior side slightly straight and its posterior side convex. The tibial insertion was kidney bean–shaped.


On 3.0-T MRI, the ACL has a “bow tie” shape, including an oval isthmus, with a semicircular femoral insertion and kidney bean–shaped tibial insertion.

Clinical Relevance:

The measurement method will allow surgeons to quantitatively diagnose partial injuries of the ACL using a noninvasive system in actual patients.

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