MRI in axial spondyloarthritis: understanding an 'ASAS-positive MRI' and the ASAS classification criteria

Skeletal Radiol. 2022 Sep;51(9):1721-1730. doi: 10.1007/s00256-022-04018-4. Epub 2022 Feb 23.


In 2009, the Assessment of SpondyloArthritis international Society (ASAS) published a definition of 'active sacroiliitis on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for classification of axial spondyloarthritis'. This new definition of an 'ASAS-positive MRI' was integral to new classification criteria for axial spondyloarthritis that were published in the same year. The ASAS MRI definition had the considerable advantage of simplicity and the definition gained popularity as guidance for interpreting MRI of the sacroiliac joints in clinical practice. However, classification criteria are not designed for use in clinical practice with the consequence that overreliance on the presence of bone marrow edema, which is the principal determinant of an 'ASAS-positive MRI', may result in a tendency to overcall inflammatory sacroiliitis in the clinical setting. This article aims to inform the reader about the rationale behind the ASAS definition of a positive MRI and ASAS classification criteria, their proper use in research and why they should not be used in clinical practice. The article also contains guidance for an updated imaging protocol and interpretation of images including typical imaging findings, differential diagnosis, and common pitfalls.

Keywords: Axial spondyloarthritis; Classification; Magnetic resonance imaging.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Axial Spondyloarthritis*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Sacroiliac Joint / diagnostic imaging
  • Sacroiliac Joint / pathology
  • Sacroiliitis* / diagnostic imaging
  • Sacroiliitis* / pathology
  • Spondylarthritis* / diagnostic imaging
  • Spondylarthritis* / pathology