MARS MRI assessment of fatty degeneration of the gluteal muscles in patients with THA: reliability and accuracy of commonly used classification systems

Introduction: Fatty degeneration of the gluteal muscles on metal artefact reduction sequence (MARS) MRI has been shown to correlate with poor functional outcomes, particularly in patients with total hip arthroplasty (THA). Standardized, reliable classification systems that permit assessment of fatty gluteal infiltration are needed for clinical decision making. This study aimed to compare the reproducibility and accuracy of commonly used MRI classification systems for fatty gluteal atrophy in THA patients.

Methods: MARS magnetic resonance images of 82 patients with unilateral THA were analysed by three independent trained observers. The readers evaluated fatty degeneration of the gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, and gluteus maximus according to 3 widely used classification systems: Goutallier, Quartile, and Bal and Lowe. Interobserver and intraobserver repeatability were determined using the weighted Kappa test. Quantitative evaluation of the proportion of intramuscular fat based on MR signal intensities was obtained and represented the gold standard.

Results: Mean interobserver agreement for the Quartile classification system (0.93) was higher compared with Goutallier classification system (0.87) and the Bal and Lowe classification system (0.83; range 0.79-0.88; p = 0.04). Intraobserver repeatability was significantly higher for the Quartile classification system (weighted kappa 0.91, 0.89, 0.85) compared with the Bal and Lowe classification system (weighted kappa 0.83, 0.77, 0.75; p < 0.01) and Goutallier classification system (weighted kappa 0.83, 0.77, 0.75; p = 0.04). Agreement with the gold standard measurements was significantly higher in the Quartile classification system (0.88, 0.84, 0.81) compared with the Goutallier classification system (0.80, 0.77, 0.78; p = 0.02) and Bal and Lowe classification system (0.76, 0.74, 0.73; p < 0.01).

Discussion: This study directly compared three clinically used MRI classification systems for fatty gluteal muscle atrophy in THA patients. Our findings demonstrate that although all three classification systems demonstrate good reproducibility and accuracy, the Quartile classification system is superior to the others in terms of intraobserver reliability and accuracy to quantify fatty gluteal degeneration in THA patients.

Keywords: Bal and Lowe classification system; Gluteal fatty degeneration; Goutallier classification system; MARS MRI; Quartile classification system; Total hip arthroplasty.