Rheumatoid arthritis of the shoulder joint: comparison of conventional radiography, ultrasound, and dynamic contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging

Arthritis Rheum. 2003 Dec;48(12):3338-49. doi: 10.1002/art.11349.


Objective: To determine the role of ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) compared with conventional radiography in the detection of chronic and acute inflammatory manifestations of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) of the shoulder joint.

Methods: Forty-three consecutive patients with known RA prospectively underwent clinical examination, radiography, ultrasound, and MRI of the shoulder joints. Each patient was assigned a clinical/laboratory score consisting of 7 parameters, including measurements of shoulder mobility, the erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and C-reactive protein level. Conventional radiography was standardized and performed in 2 planes. Ultrasound was performed in 10 predefined planes using a 7.5-MHz linear transducer. MRI at 1.5T comprised transverse and oblique coronal T1- and T2*-weighted fast spin-echo, gradient-echo (GRE), and inversion-recovery sequences with a matrix size of up to 512 pixels. A dynamic T1-weighted GRE sequence was acquired with intravenous administration of contrast medium. Erosions were assessed using all 3 imaging techniques on a 4-point scale. Soft-tissue involvement was evaluated according to the presence of synovitis, tenosynovitis, and bursitis on ultrasound and MRI. The results in the study group were compared with those obtained in a control group of 10 patients with shoulder pain.

Results: In the study group, erosions of the humeroscapular joint were detected by conventional radiography in 26 patients, by ultrasound in 30 patients, and by MRI in 39 patients; the differences were statistically significant for the comparisons of conventional radiography with MRI and for ultrasound versus MRI (P < 0.0001). Conventional radiography detected 12 erosions of the scapula and MRI detected 15. Synovitis was demonstrated in 12 patients by ultrasound and in 27 patients by MRI (P = 0.0003). Tenosynovitis was observed in 15 patients by ultrasound and in 28 patients by MRI (P = 0.0064). Bursitis was detected in 13 patients by ultrasound and in 18 patients by MRI. The findings on dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI correlated significantly with the detection of synovitis by ultrasound and erosions by static MRI (P < 0.05).

Conclusion: Ultrasound and MRI supplement conventional radiography in assessing the shoulder joint. Although conventional radiography can be used as the sole method of following up known joint destruction in RA, ultrasound and, preferably, MRI are recommended as additional techniques in the initial diagnostic evaluation when radiography yields negative results.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnostic imaging*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiography
  • Scapula / diagnostic imaging
  • Scapula / pathology
  • Shoulder Joint / diagnostic imaging*
  • Shoulder Joint / pathology
  • Synovitis / diagnostic imaging
  • Synovitis / pathology
  • Ultrasonography