Accuracy and Reliability of the Visual Assessment of Patellar Tracking

Matthew J. Best, Miho Tanaka, Shadpour Demehri, Andrew J. Cosgarea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Abnormal patellar tracking is described as a “J-sign” when the patella exhibits excessive lateral displacement during active knee extension. Purpose: To determine (1) the accuracy and reliability of the visual assessment of patellar tracking when viewed by surgeons with patellofemoral expertise and (2) whether surgeon experience (in years) correlates with the ability to accurately identify the presence and severity of patellar maltracking. Study Design: Cohort study (diagnosis); Level of evidence, 2. Methods: Using a web-based assessment, 32 orthopaedic surgeon members of the International Patellofemoral Study Group determined the presence or absence of maltracking (≥2 quadrants of lateral translation) in 10 single-knee videos of patients with patellar instability during active knee extension (qualitative analysis). Surgeons then graded patellar tracking in 20 single-knee videos as follows: 0 (<1 patellar quadrant of lateral translation), 1 (1 to <2 quadrants), 2 (2 to <3 quadrants), or 3 (≥3 quadrants) (quantitative analysis). Responses were compared with a previously described grading system using patellar bisect offset measured with 4-dimensional computed tomography. We evaluated the association between number of years of surgeon experience and the ability to correctly identify and grade patellar tracking. A total of 22 surgeons repeated the survey 3 months later, and their answers were matched to the first survey, allowing for assessment of intraobserver reliability. Results: In the qualitative analysis, surgeons correctly identified videos as showing patellar maltracking 68% of the time (κ = 0.45). In the quantitative analysis, 53%, 51%, 48%, and 68% of surgeons correctly identified maltracking of grades 3, 2, 1, and 0, respectively (κ = 0.42). Surgeon experience did not correlate with ability to identify the presence (P =.59) or grade (P =.35) of patellar maltracking. Respondent answers from the second survey demonstrated inadequate intraobserver reliability (κ = 0.48). Conclusion: Using visual assessment alone, surgeons correctly identified patellar maltracking in approximately two-thirds of videos and correctly graded patellar maltracking in half. Inter- and intraobserver reliability were inadequate to support the use of visual assessment alone for detecting the presence or grade of patellar maltracking. Surgeon experience did not correlate with ability to identify the presence or grade of patellar maltracking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)370-375
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • J-sign
  • dynamic imaging
  • interobserver reliability
  • patellar instability
  • patellar maltracking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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