Objectives: The development of RA includes a phase of arthralgia preceding clinical arthritis. The aetiology of symptoms of arthralgia is unclear. Since subclinical joint inflammation is expected to be causally related to pain, we aimed to study associations between subclinical MRI-detected inflammation and pain in patients with arthralgia suspicious for progression to RA. Methods: Unilateral MRIs of the wrist, MCP (2-5) and MTP (1-5) joints of 325 patients who fulfilled the EULAR definition of arthralgia suspicious for progression to RA were scored by two readers on subclinical inflammation (synovitis, bone marrow oedema and tenosynovitis). Associations between MRI-detected inflammation and overall pain severity at patient level (measured using the visual analogue scale), as well as with local joint tenderness, were studied. Analyses were stratified for ACPA. Results: At patient level, synovitis (β = 0.10, P = 0.048) and tenosynovitis (β = 0.11, P = 0.026) associated with the visual analogue scale pain. Of the 1620 imaged joints, 447 (28%) were tender. MRI-detected synovitis associated independently with joint tenderness in all patients (odds ratio 1.74, P < 0.001), and in the ACPA-negative stratum (odds ratio 1.96, P < 0.001). In the ACPA-positive stratum only bone marrow oedema (osteitis) was independently associated with tenderness (odds ratio 2.39, P = 0.005). Sensitivity analyses in patients who developed inflammatory arthritis during follow-up (n = 61) revealed similar associations. Subclinical inflammation was present in 51% of tender joints and 39% of non-tender joints. Conclusion: In patients with arthralgia suspicious for progression to RA, MRI-detected subclinical inflammation is associated with overall pain and local joint tenderness. However, the association is partial, indicating that subclinical inflammation is not the sole explanation of the arthralgia.

Additional Metadata
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1093/rheumatology/key220, hdl.handle.net/1765/113767
Journal Rheumatology (United Kingdom)
Burgers, L.E. (Leonie E.), Ten Brinck, R.M. (Robin M.), & van der Helm-van Mil, A.H.M. (2019). Is joint pain in patients with arthralgia suspicious for progression to rheumatoid arthritis explained by subclinical inflammation? A cross-sectional MRI study. Rheumatology (United Kingdom), 58(1), 86–93. doi:10.1093/rheumatology/key220