Ultrasonography in inflammatory rheumatic disease: an overview

Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2011 Jul 12;7(8):479-88. doi: 10.1038/nrrheum.2011.95.


Modern ultrasonography enables clinicians to sensitively assess the progression of inflammatory joint and tendon disease, and to investigate vasculitides, connective tissue diseases and nerve lesions. Despite the advantages of musculoskeletal ultrasonography for diagnostic, prognostic and monitoring purposes, fewer than 10% of European rheumatologists use this technique in routine clinical practice. The reliability and limitations of rheumatic ultrasonography remain a concern, although good interobserver and intraobserver agreement in results from ultrasonography have been demonstrated among experienced sonographers. International recommendations for assessments and ultrasonography training courses are available, and will improve the standardization of the use of these techniques. In clinical practice, ultrasonography can complement the diagnostic evaluation of patients with rheumatic disease and might have value in confirming and extending clinical findings. Musculoskeletal ultrasonography can also be a valuable follow-up tool to monitor disease activity and support treatment decisions for specific patients. Furthermore, ultrasonography-guided articular injections provide better precision and a higher success rate for synovial fluid aspiration than clinically-guided injections. In the future, three-dimensional ultrasonography techniques, the fusion of ultrasonography and other imaging methods, and real time sonoelastography will be interesting new fields of investigation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnosis*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnostic imaging
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Ultrasonography / methods*
  • Ultrasonography / statistics & numerical data