Objective: To compare magnetic resonance images (MRIs) of the sacroiliac (SI) joints of healthy subjects and individuals with known mechanical strain acting upon the SI joints to those of patients with axial spondyloarthritis (SpA) and patients with chronic back pain.
Methods: Three readers who had received standardized training and were blinded with regard to study group randomly scored MRIs of the SI joints of 172 subjects, including 47 healthy individuals without current or past back pain, 47 axial SpA patients from the Spondyloarthritis Caught Early (SPACE) cohort (with a previous MRI confirmed positive for sacroiliitis), 47 controls with chronic back pain (irrespective of MRI results) from the SPACE cohort, 7 women with postpartum back pain, and 24 frequent runners. MRIs were scored according to the Assessment of SpondyloArthritis international Society (ASAS) definition and Spondyloarthritis Research Consortium of Canada (SPARCC) index.
Results: Of the 47 healthy volunteers, 11 (23.4%) had an MRI positive for sacroiliitis, compared to 43 (91.5%) of 47 axial SpA patients and 3 (6.4%) of 47 patients with chronic back pain. Three (12.5%) of the 24 runners and 4 (57.1%) of the 7 women with postpartum back pain had a positive MRI. Using a SPARCC cutoff of ≥2 for positivity, 12 (25.5%) of 47 healthy volunteers, 46 (97.9%) of 47 positive axial SpA patients, 5 (10.6%) of 47 controls with chronic back pain, 4 (16.7%) of 24 runners, and 4 (57.1%) of 7 women with postpartum back pain had positive MRIs. Deep bone marrow edema (BME) lesions were not found in healthy volunteers, patients with chronic back pain, or runners, but were found in 42 (89.4%) of 47 positive axial SpA patients and in 1 (14.3%) of 7 women with postpartum back pain.
Conclusion: A substantial proportion of healthy individuals without current or past back pain has an MRI positive for sacroiliitis according to the ASAS definition. Deep (extensive) BME lesions are almost exclusively found in axial SpA patients.
© 2018 The Authors. Arthritis & Rheumatology published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of American College of Rheumatology.