Skip to main content

27-07-2018 | Axial spondyloarthritis | Article

Widespread pain in axial spondyloarthritis: clinical importance and gender differences

Arthritis Research & Therapy

Authors: Thijs Willem Swinnen, René Westhovens, Wim Dankaerts, Kurt de Vlam

Publisher: BioMed Central



There is a remarkable lack of detailed knowledge on pain areas in axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA), and their clinical relevance is largely unknown. Pain area may reflect local disease processes, but amplification of nervous system signalling may alter this relationship. Also, gender differences in pain area may exist in axSpA, possibly confounding disease activity outcomes. Therefore, we firstly detailed pain locations in axSpA and evaluated gender differences. Secondly, we explored the relationship of regional pain definitions with clinical outcomes. Finally, we explored the role of pain area in the assessment of disease activity.


Body charts informed on the presence of axial, peripheral articular and non-articular pain in 170 patients (108 men, 62 women) with axSpA. Multivariate Odds Ratios (ORs) were used to compare genders. General linear models were used to explore clinical differences in disease activity (Bath Ankylosing Spondylitis Disease Activity Index [BASDAI]), activity limitations (Bath Ankylosing Spondylitis Functional Index [BASFI]), fear of movement (Tampa Scale for Kinesiophobia 11-item version [TSK-11]), anxiety (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale subscale anxiety [HADS-A]) and depression (HADS subscale depression [HADS-D]) between four subgroups classified by widespread non-articular pain (WNAP+/−) and physician global assessment of disease activity (PGDA+/−) (p < .05). Principal Component Analysis (PCA) was performed to explore gender differences in the structure of disease activity.


Axial thoracic pain was least prevalent (lumbar, 74.4%; cervical, 47.6%; cervicothoracic, 47.6%; thoracic, 32.4%), but it was about three times more likely in women (OR, 2.92; p = .009). Axial cervicothoracic junction pain spread more diffusely in women (OR, 2.48; p = .018). Women exhibited a two- to threefold increased likelihood of widespread axial (OR, 3.33; p = .007) and peripheral articular (OR, 2.34; p = .023) pain. A subgroup of WNAP+/PGDA− combined with low PGDA (27% of all patients) was associated with worse BASFI, BASDAI, HADS-A and HADS-D in men and worse TSK-11 and HADS-A in women (p < .05). Disease activity outcomes showed a two-factor structure in women but not in men.


In patients with axSpA, the location and spread of pain was different between genders and was related to worse clinical status. On the basis of pain area and PGDA, clinical subgroups exhibiting a remarkably distinct health status were identified. Outcome instruments such as BASDAI should acknowledge gender differences to ensure structural validity.

Please log in to get access to this content

Related topics