Comparison of Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Radiographs for Evaluation of Carpal Osteoarthritis

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We sought to evaluate the interobserver and intraobserver reliability of radiographs and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for grading of osteoarthritis in patients with scapholunate advanced collapse (SLAC) and scaphoid nonunion advanced collapse (SNAC), and to determine whether MRI is more likely than radiographs to detect carpal osteoarthritis.


Radiographs and MR studies of 46 patients with SLAC and SNAC arthritis were reviewed by two hand surgeons and two radiologists and were graded according to severity of osteoarthritis at seven carpal joints. Interobserver and intraobserver reliability was assessed using a weighted kappa analysis. Odds ratios were calculated to compare the likelihood of MRI versus radiographs in the determination of moderate or severe osteoarthritis.


Measures of reliability were higher for MRI than radiographs. For radiographic assessment of all patients combined, interobserver agreement was moderate and intraobserver agreement was also moderate. For MRI, interobserver agreement was substantial and intraobserver agreement was almost perfect. In all joints combined for patients with SLAC and SNAC, MRI was 2.42 times more likely to demonstrate moderate osteoarthritis compared with radiographs. In patients with SLAC, MRI was 11.73 times more likely than radiographs to show moderate osteoarthritis at the radiolunate joint. In patients with SNAC, there was no difference in demonstration of moderate osteoarthritis on MRI compared with radiographs.


Carpal osteoarthritis can be more reliably assessed on MRI than radiographs. MRI is more sensitive at demonstrating moderate changes of osteoarthritis than radiographs, especially at the radiolunate joint in patients with SLAC arthritis. This has implications for surgical management of SLAC/SNAC arthritis and preoperative planning. MRI should be included in the diagnostic workup and evaluation of patients with SLAC and SNAC arthritis.

Level of Evidence

Diagnostic III.

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