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MR imaging of knees having isolated and combined ligament injuries.

OBJECTIVE: Although clinical evaluation and MR imaging both accurately reveal injuries in knees with isolated ligament tears, physical examination becomes progressively less reliable when multiple lesions exist. We investigated the accuracy of MR imaging of knees having varying degrees and numbers of ligament injuries.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS: We prospectively interpreted the MR images of 340 consecutive injured knees and compared these interpretations with the results of subsequent arthroscopy or open surgery, which served as the gold standard. Our interpretations of MR images focused on five soft-tissue supporting structures (the two cruciate ligaments, the two collateral ligaments, and the patellar tendon) and the two menisci. Patients were divided into three groups: no ligament injuries, single ligament injuries, and multiple ligament injuries.

RESULTS: Using MR imaging, we found overall sensitivity and specificity for diagnosing ligament tears to be 94% and 99%, respectively, when no or one ligament was torn and 88% and 84%, respectively, when two or more supporting structures were torn. The difference in specificity was statistically significant (p < .0001). Sensitivity for diagnosing meniscal tears decreased as the number of injured structures increased, but the relationship achieved statistical significance (p = .001) only for the medial meniscus. For all categories of injury, MR imaging was more accurate than clinical evaluation, statistics for which were taken from the orthopedic literature.

CONCLUSION: In knees with multiple ligament injuries, the diagnostic specificity of MR imaging for ligament tears decreases, as does the sensitivity for medial meniscal tears.

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