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Semiquantitative index of symptomatic minor instability of the lateral elbow at CT arthrography (SMILE index): clinical applicability and reproducibility study.

European Radiology 2023 September 14
OBJECTIVE: To assess the applicability of a semiquantitative index for symptomatic minor instability of the lateral elbow (SMILE).

MATERIALS AND METHODS: CT arthrograms of consecutive patients with lateral elbow pain who underwent ultrasound-guided CT arthrography at our orthopedic center between April 2019 and May 2022 were included. Images were acquired at 100 kVp and 80 mAs. An expert radiologist (R1) and a radiology resident (R2) retrospectively performed an independent, blinded evaluation of the arthrograms to assess the presence of imaging findings suggestive of elbow instability. The SMILE index (0-8) was obtained adding (I) radial head chondromalacia (0 - 1); (II) humeral capitellum chondromalacia (0 - 1); (III) humeral trochlear ridge chondromalacia (0 - 1); (IV) annular ligament laxity (0 - 2); (V) synovial thickening (0 - 1); (VI) humeroradial joint asymmetry (0 - 1); and (VII) capsular tear (0 - 1). R1 repeated the assessment after 14 days. Cohen's weighted κ statistic and raw concordance were used to appraise reproducibility.

RESULTS: Eighty patients (median age 49 years, interquartile range 40-53 years, 49, 61% males) underwent CT arthrography at our center, and 10 (12%) of them underwent bilateral elbow examination, leading to 90 included CT arthrograms. Median SMILE index was 4 (IQR: 2-5) for R1, 4 (IQR: 2-5) for R2, and 4 (IQR: 2-5) for the second assessment by R1. Intra-reader agreement was excellent (κ = 0.94, concordance 87%), while inter-reader agreement was substantial (κ = 0.75, concordance 67%).

CONCLUSION: The proposed SMILE index showed good reproducibility; further studies are warranted to correlate our index with clinical and surgical data.

CLINICAL RELEVANCE STATEMENT: Our scoring system allows a standardized evaluation of patients with lateral elbow pain and instability suitable for application into clinical practice, complementing the orthopedic surgeon's clinical diagnosis with imaging findings that may aid treatment choices.

KEY POINTS: • Lateral elbow pain is often interpreted clinically as lateral epicondylitis, but it can also encompass intra-articular pathology. • The proposed arthrographic index allows comprehensive quantification of lateral elbow pathology with good reproducibility and application times. • Our index provides the orthopedic surgeon with information regarding intra-articular findings, aiding treatment choices.

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