MR imaging of the normal sacroiliac joint with correlation to histology

Skeletal Radiol. 2004 Jan;33(1):15-28. doi: 10.1007/s00256-003-0691-4. Epub 2003 Nov 12.


Objective: The microscopic study of the various components of joints provide a proper basis for understanding the nature of pathologic lesions to which they are subject and their imaging appearances. This study was designed to correlate MR imaging with a systematic histological study of the normal sacroiliac joint (SIJ), which to our knowledge is not available in the literature.

Design and patients: Five male cadavers, aged 20 to 45 years, and seven male and seven female volunteers, aged 23 to 44 years, were investigated with oblique transaxial and coronal MR imaging of the SIJs. A variety of sequences including pre- and post-contrast T1 fat-saturated studies in the volunteers were used. Cryosectioning was performed in six SIJs of the five cadavers and compared with the MR images for the microscopic joint anatomy and assessed for the presence of abnormalities resembling those associated with sacroiliitis.

Results: Throughout the SIJ, the hyaline cartilage of the sacral bone and the proximal third of the hyaline iliac cartilage was strongly attached to the surrounding stabilizing ligaments, forming wide margins of fibrocartilage. In the distal one-third of the joint only, the margins of the iliac joint facet resemble that of a synovial joint, which include an inner capsule with synovial cells. The MR anatomy of the ventral and dorsal aspects of the SIJ was only adequately visualized at oblique transaxial MR imaging. No contrast enhancement occurred in the synovial tissue or in the cartilaginous joint space. The dorsal transition between the proximal 2/3 and distal 1/3 of the cartilaginous joint was at microscopy rich in anatomical and histological variants, including osseous clefts, cartilage and subchondral defects, and vascular connective tissue in the bone marrow. These were all recognized at oblique transaxial MR imaging and in coronal MR sectioning may resemble abnormalities. Otherwise, no erosions, bone marrow abnormalities, bone sclerosis or abnormal contrast enhancement occurred in the normal joints.

Conclusions: The SIJ should be classified anatomically as a symphysis with some characteristics of a synovial joint being confined to the distal cartilaginous portion at the iliac side. Coronal MR imaging does not allow assessment of normal anatomy, variants or abnormalities of the ventral and dorsal margins of the cartilaginous SIJ.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cartilage, Articular / anatomy & histology*
  • Cartilage, Articular / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ilium / anatomy & histology
  • Ilium / pathology
  • Ligaments, Articular / anatomy & histology*
  • Ligaments, Articular / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reference Values
  • Sacroiliac Joint / anatomy & histology*
  • Sacroiliac Joint / pathology*
  • Sacrum / anatomy & histology
  • Sacrum / pathology