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Posttraumatic and OA-related lesions in the knee at baseline and 2 years after traumatic meniscal injury: secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial.

OBJECTIVE: To assess the presence of early degenerative changes on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) 24 months after a traumatic meniscal tear and to compare these changes in patients treated with arthroscopic partial meniscectomy or physical therapy plus optional delayed arthroscopic partial meniscectomy.

DESIGN: We included patients aged 18-45 years with a recent onset, traumatic, MRI verified, isolated meniscal tear without radiographic osteoarthritis. Patients were randomized to arthroscopic partial meniscectomy or standardized physical therapy with optional delayed arthroscopic partial meniscectomy. MRIs at baseline and 24 months were scored using the MRI Osteoarthritis Knee Score (MOAKS). We compared baseline MRIs to healthy controls aged 18-40 years. The outcome was the progression of bone marrow lesions (BMLs), cartilage defects and osteophytes after 24 months in patients.

RESULTS: We included 99 patients and 50 controls. At baseline, grade 2 and 3 BMLs were present in 26% of the patients (n=26), compared to 2% of the controls (n=1) (between group difference 24% (95% CI 15% to 34%)). In patients, 35% (n=35) had one or more cartilage defects grade 1 or higher, compared to 2% of controls (n=1) (between group difference 33% (95% CI 23% to 44%)). At 24 months MRI was available for 40 patients randomized to arthroscopic partial meniscectomy and 41 patients randomized to physical therapy. At 24 months 30% (n=12) of the patients randomized to arthroscopic partial meniscectomy showed BML worsening, compared to 22% (n=9) of the patients randomized to physical therapy (between group difference 8% (95% CI -11% to 27%)). Worsening of cartilage defects was present in 40% (n=16) of the arthroscopic partial meniscectomy group, compared to 22% (n=9) of the physical therapy group (between group difference 18% (95% CI -2% to 38%)). Of the patients who had no cartilage defect at baseline, 33% of the arthroscopic partial meniscectomy group had a new cartilage defect at follow-up compared to 14% of the physical therapy group. Osteophyte worsening was present in 18% (n=7) of the arthroscopic partial meniscectomy group and 15% (n=6) of the physical therapy group (between group difference 3% (95% CI -13% to 19%)).

CONCLUSIONS: Our results might suggest more worsening of BMLs and cartilage defects with arthroscopic partial meniscectomy compared to physical therapy with optional delayed arthroscopic partial meniscectomy at 24-month follow-up in young patients with isolated traumatic meniscal tears without radiographic OA.

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