The relationship between knee pain and radiographic evidence of knee osteoarthritis (OA) is notoriously imperfect. In particular, conditions that distinguish individuals with symptoms from those with comparable radiographic involvement who remain asymptomatic are unclear. We investigated dynamic loading across the knee in individuals with mild radiographic OA who were distinguished by the presence or absence of knee pain.
Subjects were recruited into 3 groups: symptomatic with a Kellgren/Lawrence (K/L) grade of 2 (n = 52), asymptomatic with a K/L grade of 2 (n = 19), and asymptomatic with a K/L grade of 0 or 1 (n = 37), the latter representing a normal comparator group. Dynamic knee loading was assessed with gait analysis, and both the peak external knee adduction moment and the knee adduction angular impulse were determined.
Peak knee adduction moment and knee adduction angular impulse were 19% and 30% higher, respectively, in symptomatic K/L grade 2 individuals than in asymptomatic individuals with the same radiographic grade (P < 0.05). Conversely, the asymptomatic K/L grade 2 group did not differ from the K/L grade 0–1 normal comparator group (P = 1.00).
Among individuals with mild radiographic knee OA (K/L grade 2), those who are symptomatic have significantly higher medial compartment loads than those who are asymptomatic, whereas those who are asymptomatic do not differ from normal controls (asymptomatic K/L grade 0 or 1). These findings suggest a biomechanical component to the distinction between asymptomatic and symptomatic radiographic OA, which may be pathophysiologically important.