The cruciate ligaments are best visualized by sagittal or oblique sagittal MR images that display the full length of the ligaments (Fig. 6-24A). On straight sagittal images, the slender nature of the anterior cruciate ligament and its oblique course cause a volume-averaging effect that averages fat signal intensity about the ligaments with the normal low signal intensity of the ligament so that the anterior cruciate ligament frequently does not appear as a complete signal void. Furthermore, straight sagittal images typically fail to demonstrate the anterior cruciate ligament’s femoral attachment because of its oblique orientation in both sagittal and coronal planes. Oblique sagittal images that parallel the ligament show the full thickness and length of the anterior cruciate ligament without subjecting it to partial volume averaging (44). In the extended position of the knee, which is typically used for MR images, the anterior cruciate ligament is normally taut. The posterior cruciate ligament is a thicker ligament and is therefore well visualized on straight sagittal MR images (Fig. 6-24B). It can be visualized as a signal void structure from its attachment to the posterior tibial intercondylar area to its attachment on the medial femoral condyle. With the knee extended, the posterior cruciate ligament is visualized as thick and posteriorly bowed. It straightens with knee flexion. Axial images can be very helpful to evaluate the femoral insertion of the anterior and the posterior cruciate ligaments.
FIGURE 6-24. Normal cruciate ligaments. A: An oblique sagittal MRI parallel to the anterior cruciate ligament demonstrates excellent visualization of all borders and attachments of the anterior cruciate ligament (arrow ). B: A T2-weighted MRI of the posterior cruciate ligament (arrow ), which is normally posteriorly bowed when the knee is extended.
The MRI appearance of an anterior cruciate ligament injury depends on the site and degree of disruption, as well as on the age of the tear. A complete tear may be visualized as a discontinuity of the ligament (Fig. 6-25A–D). In the acute complete tear, the interval between the torn ends of the ligament is often occupied by a mass of intermediate signal intensity on T1-weighted images that appears hyperintense on T2-weighted images (45). At other times, the torn ligament may present as a fusiform or irregular soft-tissue mass of intermediate signal intensity on T1-weighted images that appears hyperintense on T2-weighted images. These fluid masses are usually a combination of edema and hemorrhage, and there may be an associated joint effusion. If the ligament tears from its femoral attachment, the axial images will show fluid signal between the lateral femoral condyle and the expected ligament insertion. In partial tears there is no complete discontinuity, but the ligament that appears intact on a T1-weighted image may show a hyperintense signal on T2-weighted images, or the ligament may display an interrupted or concave anterior or posterior margin when the knee is extended (42). In chronic anterior cruciate ligament deficiency, there may be a complete absence of the ligament, or there may be only remnants remaining in its usual location. Some secondary signs of anterior cruciate ligament injury may be present. These include a forward shift of the tibia and an anterior bowing or buckling of the posterior cruciate ligament caused by the position of the knee within the coil, which duplicates the knee position of an anterior drawer or Lachman test (39).
FIGURE 6-25. Acute ACL injury; spectrum of findings. A: Sagittal PD and B: Sagittal PD fat suppressed sequences. The arrow demonstrates the torn ACL resting against the tibial spine. There is diffuse marrow edema with increased signal intensity on the T2-weighted sequence. C: Axial T2-weighted fat suppressed sequence. The long arrow is pointing to the ACL fibers. There is edema anterior to the ACL (short arrow) within the intercondylar fossa. The arrowheads demarcate an area of marrow edema within the lateral femoral condyle. D: There is bone marrow edema within the posterior tibial plateau (long arrow) and the anterior femoral condyle (short arrow), tipical contusion pattern in ACL injuries. There is a small radial tear to the free inner margin of the lateral meniscus (arrowhead) secondary to the compression injury.
On T1-weighted MR images, partial tears of the posterior cruciate ligament typically appear as foci of increased signal intensity within the normal black signal void of the ligament. These appear hyperintense on T2-weighted images. With complete tears, a frank discontinuity is visualized with an intervening fluid mass that becomes hyperintense on T2-weighted images (Fig. 6-26). The gap between the ends of a completely torn posterior cruciate ligament can be exaggerated by imaging the knee in flexion, which tenses the posterior cruciate ligament.