Imaging of sacroiliitis

Clin Rheumatol. 2000;19(1):51-7. doi: 10.1007/s100670050011.


Inflammation of one or both sacroiliac joints is a characteristic feature of patients with spondyloarthropathies (SpA). Sacroiliitis often leads to inflammatory back pain (IBP). IBP and asymmetric peripheral arthritis of the lower limbs are the main clinical symptoms and criteria for classification and diagnosis of SpA in which sacroiliac joints are uni- or bilaterally affected with an intensity ranging from mild to very severe inflammation resulting in partial or complete ankylosis Sacroiliitis is a very frequent feature of undifferntiated SpA. In ankylosing spondylitis (AS) inflammation in the axial skeleton occurs rarely in the absence of sacroiliitis. Objective evidence of sacroiliitis obtained by imaging procedures, especially x-rays, has always been part of diagnostic and classification criteria for AS. This is in contrast to spinal radiography which, however, has been recently included in a core set of outcome items to be assessed in clinical studies. In early and acute stages of sacroiliitis the diagnosis can be difficult because conventional radiographs -- which are known to have considerable intra- and interobserver variability -- may be normal. Since IBP is not a specific indicator of sacroiliitis there is need for valuable imaging techniques. Scintigraphy lacks specificity. Computed tomography (CT) is a very good method to demonstrate already established bony changes and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has the advantage of combining a good visualisation of the complicated anatomy of the sacroiliac joint with the ability to localise different degrees of inflammation and oedema and prove a possible spread to muscles as it occurs in septic sacroiliitis, an important differential diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Diagnostic Imaging*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Osteoarthritis / classification
  • Osteoarthritis / diagnosis*
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Sacroiliac Joint* / diagnostic imaging
  • Sacroiliac Joint* / pathology
  • Spondylitis, Ankylosing / classification
  • Spondylitis, Ankylosing / diagnosis*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed