OBJECTIVE: To establish "normal" ranges for synovial thickness and effusion detected by ultrasound (US) and to determine cut-offs associated with knee pain (KP) and radiographic knee osteoarthritis (RKOA) in the community-.
METHODS: 147 women and 152 men ≥40 years old were randomly selected from the Nottingham KP and Related Health in the Community (KPIC) cohort (n=9506). The "normal" range was established using the percentile method in 163 participants who had no KP and no RKOA. Optimal (maximum sensitivity and specificity) and high specificity (90%) cut-offs were established using receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis in a comparison between people with both KP and RKOA and normal controls.
RESULTS: Effusion and synovial hypertrophy differed by gender but not by age or laterality, therefore gender-specific reference limits were estimated. However, the "normal" ranges between men and women were similar for effusion (0-10.3 mm versus 0-9.8 mm), but different for synovial hypertrophy (0-6.8 mm versus 0-5.4 mm). Power Doppler Signal (PDS) in the healthy controls was uncommon (1.2% in men and 0.0% in women). The optimal cut-off was 7.4 mm for men and 5.3 mm for women for effusion, and 3.7 and 1.6 for hypertrophy respectively. The high specificity cut-off was 8.9 for men and 7.8 for women for effusion, and 5.8 and 4.2 for hypertrophy respectively.
CONCLUSIONS: US effusion and synovial hypertrophy but not PDS are common, but differ by gender, in community-derived people without painful knee OA. Currently used cut-offs for abnormality need reappraisal.