Objective: The purpose of this study was to compare the diagnostic efficacy conventional MRI and MR arthrography (MRA) in the diagnosis of chondromalacia patella (CP) on a low-field open magnet system (LFOMS), correlated with arthroscopy. Subjects and methods: Forty-two patients (50 knees) with pain in the anterior part of the knee were prospectively examined with LFOMS, including T1-weighted, proton density-weighted and T2-weighted sequences. All were also examined T1-weighted MRI after intraarticular injection of dilue gadopentetate dimeglumine. Two observers, who reached a consensus interpretation, evaluated each imaging technique independently. Thirty-six of the 50 facets examined had chondromalacia shown by arthroscopy, which was used as the standard of reference. The sensitivity, specificity and accuracy of each imaging technique in the diagnosis of each stage of CP were determined and compared by using the McNemar two-tailed analysis. Results: Arthroscopy showed that 16 facets were normal. Four (30%) of 13 grade 1 lesions were detected with T1. Four lesions (30%) with T2 and three lesions (23%) with proton-weighted images were detected. Seven (53%) of 13 grade 1 lesions were detected with MRA. Grade 2 abnormalities were diagnosed in two (33%) of six facets with proton density-weighted pulse sequences, two (33%) of six facets with T1-weighted pulse sequences, in three (50%) of six facets with T2-weighted pulse sequences, in five (83%) of six facets with MRA sequences. Grade 3 abnormalities were diagnosed in three (71%) of seven facets with proton density- and T1-weighted images, five (71%) of seven facets with T2-weighted pulse sequences, six (85%) of seven facets with MRA sequences. Grade 4 CP was detected with equal sensitivity with T1-, proton density- and T2-weighted pulse sequences, all showing seven (87%) of the eight lesions. MRA again showed these findings in all eight patients. All imaging techniques were insensitive to grade 1 lesions and highly sensitive to grade 4 lesion, so that no significant difference among the techniques could be shown. Conclusion: All imaging technique studied had high specificity and accuracy in the detection and grading of CP; however, MRA was more sensitive than T1-weighted and proton density-weighted MR imaging on a LFOMS. Although the arthrographic techniques were not significantly better than T2-weighted imaging, the number of false-positive diagnosis was greatest with T2-weighted MRI. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.