Increased Magnetic Resonance Imaging Signal of the Lateral Patellar Facet Cartilage: A Functional Marker for Patellar Instability?

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In the knee joint, predisposition for patellar instability can be assessed by an abnormal Insall-Salvati index, tibial tuberosity–trochlear groove (TTTG) distance, and abnormal shape of patella and trochlea. Given the complex anatomic features of the knee joint with varying positions of the patella during motion, the presence of a single or even a combination of these factors does not inevitably result in patellar instability. After trocheoplasty in patients with trochlear dysplasia, assessment of trochlear cartilage and subchondral bone is limited due to postoperative artifacts. Identification of presence of edema in the patellar cartilage may be helpful to identify patellar instability before and after surgery in these patients.


To determine whether increased signal intensity of the lateral patellar facet cartilage or measurements of abnormal patellofemoral articulation are associated with patellar instability before and after trochleoplasty.

Study Design:

Case series; Level of evidence, 4.


Twenty-two patients with clinical diagnosis of patellar instability who underwent trochleoplasty, with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the knee before and after surgery, were identified. The following observations and measurements were obtained in preoperative imaging: Insall-Salvati ratio, tibial tuberosity–trochlear groove (TTTG) distance, patellar shape (Wiberg), trochlear shape (Hepp), and edema in the lateral patellar facet cartilage. At 3 to 12 months after surgery, the presence or absence of edema in the cartilage of the lateral facet of the patella, the trochlear shape, and TTTG distance were reassessed. Wilcoxon matched-pairs signed rank test and Student t test were used. Interreader agreement was calculated as the Cohen κ or paired Student t test.


Increased cartilage signal was present in 20 patients before trochleoplasty and in 4 after trochleoplasty. Insall-Salvati ratio was greater than 1.20 in 20 patients. Patellar shape was greater than type 2 in 18 patients. Trochlear shape was greater than type 2 in 21 patients before and 7 after trochleoplasty. Mean TTTG distance was 14 mm before and 10 mm after surgery. When results before and after surgery were compared, a significant difference was found for cartilage signal, TTTG distance, and trochlear shape. Agreement for observations was moderate to substantial, and no significant differences were found for interreader agreement (P > .05).


Patellar cartilage at the lateral facet of the patella can be assessed after trochleoplasty despite postoperative artifacts in the trochlea. A decrease of patellar edema seems to be associated with improved femoropatellar articulation. Moreover, patellar edema may be used as a functional criterion of patellofemoral instability. This would provide additional information compared to morphologic criteria which just describe predisposing factors for femoropatellar instability.

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