Comparison of radiography and ultrasonography for the diagnosis of osteochondritis dissecans in the equine femoropatellar joint

Bourzac, C.; Alexander, K.; Rossier, Y.; Laverty, S.
Equine Veterinary Journal
September 2009

Reasons for performing study: Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) lesions of the femoropatellar (FP) joint are diagnosed routinely by radiography, but lesions located in the trochlear groove or without accompanying subchondral bone changes can be difficult to visualise. Ultrasonography allows evaluation of articular cartilage and subchondral bone in the FP joint.

Objectives: To document the radiographic and ultrasonographic appearance of OCD lesions in the equine FP joint, grade ultrasonographic lesions and compare their accuracy in the diagnosis of these lesions.

Methods: The medical records of all horses diagnosed with FP OCD between 1995 and 2006 were assessed. Inclusion criteria included availability of both radiographic and ultrasonographic images. Lesion characteristics were evaluated in each trochlear ridge and trochlear groove. For assessment of the accuracy (sensitivity and specificity) of both imaging techniques in the diagnosis of OCD, only cases with an arthroscopic or necropsy examination were studied.

Results: Twenty-one horses were included. OCD lesions were diagnosed by radiography (30/32 joints) and ultrasound (32/32 joints). The lateral trochlear ridge (LTR, 91%) and the medial trochlear ridge (MTR, 17%) were involved on radiography. The localisation on ultrasound examination was similar (97% LTR, 25% MTR). All but one lesion seen on radiography were also detected with ultrasound; 2 LTR and 3 MTR lesions, not seen on radiography were diagnosed by ultrasound and confirmed at arthroscopy or necropsy. The specificity was 100% regardless of the site and imaging procedure except for the distal third of the MTR (94% for ultrasound). The sensitivity varied, depending on lesion site.

Conclusion: Ultrasonography is a valuable diagnostic tool to diagnose OCD lesions in the FP joint and more sensitive than radiography for lesions affecting the MTR of the distal femur.

Clinical relevance: Ultrasound should be considered as a useful adjunct to radiography for diagnosing equine FP OCD, especially in cases of high clinical suspicion but equivocal radiographic findings. Images can be generated immediately when digital radiography is not available, permitting an immediate on-site diagnosis.