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OBJECTIVE: To examine whether knee subchondral cysts, measured on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are associated with incident knee osteoarthritis (OA) outcomes. METHODS: We used longitudinal data from the Multicenter Osteoarthritis Study, a community-based cohort of subjects with risk factors for knee OA. Participants without a history of knee surgery and/or inflammatory arthritis (i.e., rheumatoid arthritis and gout) were followed up for 84 months for the following incident outcomes: 1) radiographic knee OA (Kellgren/Lawrence grade ≥2), 2) symptomatic radiographic knee OA (radiographic knee OA and frequent knee pain), and 3) frequent knee pain (with or without radiographic knee OA). In a subset of participants, subchondral cysts were scored on baseline MRIs of 1 knee. Multiple logistic regression, with adjustment for participant characteristics and other baseline knee MRI findings, was used to assess whether subchondral cysts were predictive of incident outcomes. RESULTS: Among the participants with knees eligible for analyses of outcomes over 84 months, incident radiographic knee OA occurred in 22.8% of knees with no baseline radiographic knee OA, symptomatic radiographic knee OA occurred in 17.0% of knees with no baseline symptomatic radiographic knee OA, and frequent knee pain (with or without radiographic knee OA) occurred in 28.8% of knees with no baseline radiographic knee OA and 43.7% of knees with baseline radiographic knee OA. With adjustment for age, sex, and body mass index, the presence of subchondral cysts was not associated with incident radiographic knee OA but was associated with increased odds of incident symptomatic radiographic knee OA (odds ratio 1.92 [95% confidence interval 1.16-3.19]) and increased odds of incident frequent knee pain in those who had radiographic knee OA at baseline (odds ratio 2.11 [95% confidence interval 0.87-5.12]). Stronger and significant associations were observed for outcomes based on consistent reports of frequent knee pain within ~1 month of the study visit. CONCLUSION: Subchondral cysts are likely to be a secondary phenomenon, rather than a primary trigger, of radiographic knee OA, and may predict symptoms in knees with existing disease.

Original publication




Journal article


Arthritis rheumatol

Publication Date





60 - 69


Aged, Arthralgia, Bone Cysts, Female, Humans, Joint Diseases, Knee Joint, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Middle Aged, Osteoarthritis, Knee, Prospective Studies