BACKGROUND: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) produces exceptionally detailed images of the intra-articular structures of the knee. Recognising the range of MRI appearances within a normal population is therefore necessary in order to avoid attributing a greater significance to these than is clinically justified. OBJECTIVE: To compare MRI appearances in asymptomatic gymnasts with those in a less active population in order to identify findings that may be seen in the absence of significant pathology and thereby aid the clinical management of this athletic group. METHODS: MR images were obtained from 24 knees of asymptomatic competitive American collegiate gymnasts aged 18-22. The menisci were evaluated according to established grading criteria, and compared with a group of controls matched for age and sex. RESULTS: Grade 3 intrameniscal signal abnormalities are considered to be highly correlated with meniscal tears. When compared with control group, the experimental group of gymnasts had a significantly different distribution (p<0.001) of grade 3 intrameniscal signal changes, preferentially involving the lateral meniscus. The overall incidence of grade 3 changes (13%) in gymnasts was not, however, significantly different from the incidence in the controls. CONCLUSIONS: A knowledge of these MRI appearances is important when evaluating the lateral menisci within this group of athletes to prevent unnecessary treatment or intervention. This is particularly pertinent when the imaging findings do not closely correlate with the site of symptoms.
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