Skip to main content


Log in

Partial ACL rupture: an MR diagnosis?

  • Articles
  • Published:
Skeletal Radiology Aims and scope Submit manuscript



We sought to clarify the ability of magnetic resonance imaging (MR) to show partial anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures and to allow distinction of partial from complete ACL ruptures.

Materials and Methods

Eighty-eight patients were studied by arthroscopy and MR (36 with normal ACLs, 21 with partial ACL ruptures, and 31 with complete ACL ruptures). MR studies were interpreted by an experienced, blinded reader. MR examinations were also independently scored with respect to four primary and seven secondary signs, and these data were analyzed using discriminant analysis.


The sensitivity of MR is lower for partial than for complete ACL ruptures. Most detected partial ACL ruptures resemble complete ruptures on MR. Secondary signs do not significantly improve detection of partial ACL ruptures, but they do help to distinguish partial from complete ACL ruptures. Displacement of the posterior horn of the lateral meniscus and popliteus muscle injury are indicative of complete ACL rupture.


The majority of partial ACL ruptures are shown by MR, but MR is less sensitive for partial than for complete ACL rupture. The distinction of partial from complete ACL rupture on MR examination, while problematic, is slightly improved by assessment of secondary signs.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Lee JK, Yao L, Phelps CT, Wirth CR, Czajka J, Lozman J. Anterior cruciate ligament tears: MR imaging compared with arthroscopy and clinical tests. Radiology 1988; 166: 861–864.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Mink JH, Levy T, Crues JV III. Tears of the anterior cruciate ligament and menisci of the knee: MR imaging evaluation. Radiology 1988; 167: 769–774.

    Google Scholar 

  3. McCauley TR, Moses M, Kier R, Lynch JK, Barton JW, Jokl P. MR diagnosis of tears of anterior cruciate ligament of the knee: importance of ancillary findings. AJR 1994; 162: 115–119.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Chan WP, Peterfy C, Fritz RC, Genant HK. MR diagnosis of complete tears of the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee: importance of anterior subluxation of the tibia. AJR 1994; 162: 355–360.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Yao L, Lee JK. Occult intraosseous fracture: detection with MR imaging. Radiology 1988; 167: 749–751.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Kaplan PA, Walker CW, Kilcoyne RF, Brown DE, Tusek D, Dussault RG. Occult fracture patterns of the knee associated with anterior cruciate ligament tears: assessment with MR imaging. Radiology 1992; 183: 835–838.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Tung GA, Davis LM, Wiggins ME, Fadale PD. Tears of the anterior cruciate ligament: primary and secondary signs at MR imaging. Radiology 1993; 188: 661–667.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Klecka WR. Discriminant analysis. Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications, 1980.

    Google Scholar 

  9. DeHaven KE. Diagnosis of acute knee injuries with hemarthrosis. Am J Sports Med 1980; 8: 9–14.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Buckley SL, Barrack RL, Alexander AH. The natural history of conservatively treated partial anterior cruciate ligament tears. Am J Sports Med 1989; 17: 221–225.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Bomberg BC, McGinty JB. Acute hemarthrosis of the knee: indications for diagnostic arthroscopy. Arthroscopy 1990; 6: 221–225.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Noyes FR, Bassett RW, Grood ES, Butler DL. Arthroscopy in acute traumatic hemarthrosis of the knee. Incidence of anterior cruciate tears and other injuries. J Bone Joint Surg [Am] 1980; 62: 687–695.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Noyes FR, Mooar LA, Moorman CT III, McGinniss GH. Partial tears of the anterior cruciate ligament. Progression to complete ligament deficiency. J Bone Joint Surg [Br] 1989; 71: 825–833.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Sommerlath K, Odensten M, Lysholm J. The late course of acute partial anterior cruciate ligament tears: a nine to 15-year follow-up evaluation. Clin Orthop 1992; 281: 152–158.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Barrack RL, Buckley SL, Bruckner JD, Kneisl JS, Alexander AH. Partial versus complete acute anterior cruciate ligament tears. The results of nonoperative treatment. J Bone Joint Surg [Br] 1990; 72-B: 622–624.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Sandberg R, Balkfors B. Partial rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament: natural course. Clin Orthop 1987; 220: 176–178.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Fruensgaard S, Johannsen HV. Incomplete ruptures of the anterior cruciate ligament. J Bone Joint Surg [Br] 1989; 71-B: 526–530.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Shelbourne KD, Nitz PA. The O'Donoghue triad revisited: combined knee injuries involving anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligament tears. Am J Sports Med 1991; 19: 474–477.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Yao, L., Gentili, A., Petrus, L. et al. Partial ACL rupture: an MR diagnosis?. Skeletal Radiol. 24, 247–251 (1995).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Key words