Although there is evidence for a beneficial effect of increased quadriceps strength on knee symptoms, the effect on knee structure is unclear. We undertook this study to examine the relationship between change in vastus medialis cross-sectional area (CSA) and knee pain, tibial cartilage volume, and risk of knee replacement in subjects with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis (OA).


One hundred seventeen subjects with symptomatic knee OA underwent magnetic resonance imaging of the knee at baseline and at 2 and 4.5 years. Vastus medialis CSA was measured at baseline and at 2 years. Tibial cartilage volume was measured at baseline and at 2 and 4.5 years. Knee pain was assessed by the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index at baseline and at 2 years. The frequency of knee joint replacement over 4 years was determined. Regression coefficients (B) and odds ratios were determined along with 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs).


After adjusting for confounders, baseline vastus medialis CSA was inversely associated with current knee pain (r = −0.16, P = 0.04) and with medial tibial cartilage volume loss from baseline to 2 years (B coefficient −10.9 [95% CI −19.5, −2.3]), but not with baseline tibial cartilage volume. In addition, an increase in vastus medialis CSA from baseline to 2 years was associated with reduced knee pain over the same time period (r = 0.24, P = 0.007), reduced medial tibial cartilage loss from 2 to 4.5 years (B coefficient −16.8 [95% CI −28.9, −4.6]), and reduced risk of knee replacement over 4 years (odds ratio 0.61 [95% CI 0.40, 0.94]).


In a population of patients with symptomatic knee OA, increased vastus medialis size was associated with reduced knee pain and beneficial structural changes at the knee, suggesting that management of knee pain and optimizing vastus medialis size are important in reducing OA progression and subsequent knee replacement.