Morphological characteristics of sacroiliac joint MRI lesions in axial spondyloarthritis and control subjects

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2022 Mar 2;61(3):1005-1017. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/keab468.


Objectives: To investigate SI joint MRI inflammation, structural and degenerative lesion characteristics in patients with axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA) and various control groups.

Methods: Patients with axSpA (n = 41) and lumbar disc herniation (n = 25), women with (n = 46) and without (n = 14) post-partum (childbirth within 4-16 months) buttock/pelvic pain, cleaning assistants (n = 26), long-distance runners (n = 23) and healthy men (n = 29) had MRI of the SI joints prospectively performed. MRI lesions were assessed on nine slices covering the cartilaginous compartment by two experienced readers according to the definitions of the Spondyloarthritis Research Consortium of Canada SI joint inflammation and structural scores, and were evaluated according to depth and extent. Other morphological characteristics were also analysed.

Results: Total depth scores for bone marrow oedema (BME) and fat lesion (FAT) and total extent score for erosion were statistically significantly highest in axSpA, while scores for sclerosis were numerically highest in women with post-partum pain. Maximum BME depth >10 mm was frequently and exclusively found in axSpA and post-partum women (39% vs 14-17%) while FAT depth >5 mm was predominantly found in axSpA (76% vs 0-10%). Erosions were primarily seen in axSpA, especially when extensive (≥4 or confluent; 17% vs 0%). Capsulitis was absent in non-axSpA groups. BME and FAT in the ligamentous compartment were primarily found in axSpA (17/22% vs 0/2% in non-axSpA groups). In non-axSpA, osteophytes (axSpA vs non-axSpA: 0% vs 3-17%) and vacuum phenomenon (7% vs 30-66%) were more frequent, and the joint space was wider [mean (s.d.) 1.5 (0.9) vs 2.2 (0.5) mm].

Conclusions: FAT depth >5 mm, but not BME depth >10 mm, could almost differentiate axSpA patients from all other groups. When excluding post-partum women, BME >5 mm and erosion were highly specific for axSpA.

Keywords: Axial spondyloarthritis; SI joints; inflammation; magnetic resonance imaging; post-partum women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Axial Spondyloarthritis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Axial Spondyloarthritis / pathology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sacroiliac Joint / diagnostic imaging*
  • Sacroiliac Joint / pathology*
  • Young Adult