From the radiologic pathology archives: Imaging of osteonecrosis: Radiologic-pathologic correlation

Mark D. Murphey, Kristopher L. Foreman, Mary K. Klassen-Fischer, Michael G. Fox, Ellen M. Chung, Mark J. Kransdorf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Osteonecrosis is common and represents loss of blood supply to a region of bone. Common sites affected include the femoral head, humeral head, knee, femoral/tibial metadiaphysis, scaphoid, lunate, and talus. Symptomatic femoral head osteonecrosis accounts for 10,000-20,000 new cases annually in the United States. In contradistinction, metadiaphyseal osteonecrosis is often occult and asymptomatic. There are numerous causes of osteonecrosis most commonly related to trauma, corticosteroids, and idiopathic. Imaging of osteonecrosis is frequently diagnostic with a serpentine rim of sclerosis on radiographs, photopenia in early disease at bone scintigraphy, and maintained yellow marrow at MR imaging with a serpentine rim of high signal intensity double-line sign) on images obtained with long repetition time sequences. These radiologic features correspond to the underlying pathology of osseous response to wall off the osteonecrotic process and attempts at repair with vascularized granulation tissue at the reactive interface. The long-term clinical importance of epiphyseal osteonecrosis is almost exclusively based on the likelihood of overlying articular collapse. MR imaging is generally considered the most sensitive and specific imaging modality both for early diagnosis and identifying features that increase the possibility of this complication. Treatment subsequent to articular collapse and development of secondary osteoarthritis typically requires reconstructive surgery. Malignant transformation of osteonecrosis is rare and almost exclusively associated with metadiaphyseal lesions. Imaging features of this dire sequela include ggressive bone destruction about the lesion margin, cortical involvement, and an associated soft-tissue mass. Recognizing the appearance of osteonecrosis, which reflects the underlying pathology, improves radiologic assessment and is important to guide optimal patient management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1003-1028
Number of pages26
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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