A musculoskeletal model of low grade connective tissue inflammation in patients with thyroid associated ophthalmopathy (TAO): the WOMED concept of lateral tension and its general implications in disease

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2007 Feb 23;8:17. doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-8-17.


Background: Low level connective tissue inflammation has been proposed to play a role in thyroid associated ophthalmopathy (TAO). The aim of this study was to investigate this postulate by a musculoskeletal approach together with biochemical parameters.

Methods: 13 patients with TAO and 16 controls were examined. Erythrocyte levels of Zn, Cu, Ca2+, Mg, and Fe were determined. The musculoskeletal evaluation included observational data on body posture with emphasis on the orbit-head region. The angular foot position in the frontal plane was quantified following gait observation. The axial orientation of the legs and feet was evaluated in an unloaded supine position. Functional propioceptive tests based on stretch stimuli were done by using foot inversion and foot rotation.

Results: Alterations in the control group included neck tilt in 3 cases, asymmetrical foot angle during gait in 2, and a reaction to foot inversion in 5 cases. TAO patients presented facial asymmetry with displaced eye fissure inclination (mean 9.1 degrees) as well as tilted head-on-neck position (mean 5.7 degrees). A further asymmetry feature was external rotation of the legs and feet (mean 27 degrees). Both foot inversion as well as foot rotation induced a condition of neuromuscular deficit. This condition could be regulated by gentle acupressure either on the lateral abdomen or the lateral ankle at the acupuncture points gall bladder 26 or bladder 62, respectively. In 5 patients, foot rotation produced a phenomenon of moving toes in the contra lateral foot. In addition foot rotation was accompanied by an audible tendon snapping. Lower erythrocyte Zn levels and altered correlations between Ca2+, Mg, and Fe were found in TAO.

Conclusion: This whole body observational study has revealed axial deviations and body asymmetry as well as the phenomenon of moving toes in TAO. The most common finding was an arch-like displacement of the body, i.e. eccentric position, with foot inversion and head tilt to the contra lateral side and tendon snapping. We propose that eccentric muscle action over time can be the basis for a low grade inflammatory condition. The general implications of this model and its relations to Zn and Se will be discussed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Connective Tissue Diseases / complications
  • Connective Tissue Diseases / pathology*
  • Connective Tissue Diseases / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Graves Ophthalmopathy / complications
  • Graves Ophthalmopathy / pathology*
  • Graves Ophthalmopathy / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Tonus / physiology*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / complications
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / pathology*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Proprioception / physiology