To explore the clinical characteristics of steroid-associated osteonecrosis of the femoral head (ONFH) presenting initially normal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) results.
This retrospective study examined data from 23 cases that suffered from ONFH but presented a normal image at the first MRI examination after corticosteroid therapy from June 2005 to December 2013. Data on protopathy, age, sex, time of pain onset, MRI examination, and initial diagnosis were collected and analyzed.
Average time from steroid therapy to first MRI examination was 45.7 ± 25.5 days (range, 10–94 days). Average time to final diagnosis was 199.9 ± 165.8 days (range, 32–762 days). Of the 23 cases, 21 cases complained of discomfort and were misdiagnosed because of a normal initial MRI scan. Twelve hips progressed to collapse and 1 hip received lumbar discectomy when got the final diagnosis. Cases with continuous pain (9/21) presented with pain at a later time than those with intermittent pain (12/21), although the continuous pain cases were diagnosed earlier.
MRI performed 2 to 3 months after steroid therapy may present normal images. Another MRI examination is necessary to make a definite diagnosis.