The bulge sign - a simple physical examination for identifying progressive knee osteoarthritis: data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative

Yuanyuan Wang, Johanne Martel-Pelletier, Andrew J. Teichtahl, Anita E. Wluka, Sultana Monira Hussain, Jean-Pierre Pelletier, Flavia M. Cicuttini

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4 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE: To examine whether the presence of bulge sign or patellar tap was associated with frequent knee pain, progression of radiographic OA (ROA) and total knee replacement (TKR). METHODS: This study included 4344 Osteoarthritis Initiative participants examined at baseline for bulge sign and/or patellar tap. The clinical signs were categorized as no (none at baseline and 2 years), resolved (present at baseline only), developed (present at 2 years only) and persistent (present at both time points). Frequent knee pain and progression of ROA over 4 years and TKR over 6 years were assessed. Binary logistic regression was used to examine the associations. RESULTS: A total of 12.7% of participants had bulge sign only, 2.0% had patellar tap only and 3.3% had both. A positive baseline bulge sign was associated with an increased risk of frequent knee pain [OR 1.31 (95% CI 1.04, 1.64), P = 0.02] and TKR [OR 1.47 (95% CI 1.06, 2.05), P = 0.02]. Developed bulge sign was associated with an increased risk of frequent knee pain [OR 1.75 (95% CI 1.34, 2.29), P < 0.001] and progressive ROA [OR 1.67 (95% CI 1.11, 2.51), P = 0.01]. Persistent bulge sign was associated with an increased risk of frequent knee pain [OR 1.60 (95% CI 1.09, 2.35), P = 0.02], progressive ROA [OR 1.84 (95% CI 1.01, 3.33), P = 0.045] and TKR [OR 2.13 (95% CI 1.23, 3.68), P = 0.007]. Patellar tap was not examined for its association with joint outcomes due to its low prevalence. CONCLUSION: The presence of bulge sign identifies individuals at increased risk of frequent knee pain, progression of ROA and TKR. This provides clinicians with a quick, simple, inexpensive method for identifying those at higher risk of progressive knee OA who should be targeted for therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1288-1295
Number of pages8
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • bulge sign
  • effusion
  • osteoarthritis
  • pain
  • progression
  • total knee replacement

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