We studied whether the presence of lateral osteophytes on plain radiographs was a predictor for the quality of cartilage in the lateral compartment of patients with varus osteoarthritic of the knee (Kellgren and Lawrence grade 2 to 3).
The baseline MRIs of 344 patients from the Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI) who had varus osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee on hip-knee-ankle radiographs were reviewed. Patients were categorised using the Osteoarthritis Research Society International (OARSI) osteophyte grading system into 174 patients with grade 0 (no osteophytes), 128 grade 1 (mild osteophytes), 28 grade 2 (moderate osteophytes) and 14 grade 3 (severe osteophytes) in the lateral compartment (tibia). All patients had Kellgren and Lawrence grade 2 or 3 arthritis of the medial compartment. The thickness and volume of the lateral cartilage and the percentage of full-thickness cartilage defects in the lateral compartment was analysed.
There was no difference in the cartilage thickness or cartilage volume between knees with osteophyte grades 0 to 3. The percentage of full-thickness cartilage defects on the tibial side increased from < 2% for grade 0 and 1 to 10% for grade 3.
The lateral compartment cartilage volume and thickness is not influenced by the presence of lateral compartment osteophytes in patients with varus OA of the knee. Large lateral compartment osteophytes (grade 3) increase the likelihood of full-thickness cartilage defects in the lateral compartment.