Magnetic Resonance (MR) imaging is the most important imaging modality for the evaluation of traumatic or degenerative cartilaginous lesions in the knee. It is a powerful noninvasive tool for detecting such lesions and monitoring the effects of pharmacologic and surgical therapy.
The specific MR imaging techniques used for these purposes can be divided into two broad categories according to their usefulness for morphologic or compositional evaluation. To assess the structure of knee cartilage, standard spin-echo (SE) and gradient-recalled echo (GRE) sequences, fast SE sequences, and three-dimensional SE and GRE sequences are available.
These techniques allow the detection of morphologic defects in the articular cartilage of the knee and are commonly used in research for semiquantitative and quantitative assessments of cartilage.
To evaluate the collagen network and proteoglycan content in the knee cartilage matrix, compositional assessment techniques such as T2 mapping, delayed gadolinium-enhanced MR imaging of cartilage (or dGEMRIC), T1ρ imaging, sodium imaging, and diffusion-weighted imaging are available.
These techniques may be used in various combinations and at various magnetic field strengths in clinical and research settings to improve the characterization of changes in cartilage.