The purpose of the current study was to examine the painful elbow, and in particular enthesitis, in psoriatic arthritis (PsA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) using clinical examination, ultrasonography (US) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Patients with elbow pain (11 with PsA and 9 with RA) were recruited. Clinical examination, US and MRI studies were performed on the same day. For enthesitis, the common extensor and flexor insertions and the triceps insertion were imaged (20 patients, giving a total of 60 sites with comparative data). Imaging was performed with the radiologists blinded to the diagnosis and clinical findings. US was used to assess ‘inflammatory activity’ (Power Doppler signal, oedema, tendon thickening and bursal swelling) and ‘damage’ (erosions, cortical roughening and enthesophytes). MRI was used to assess ‘inflammation’ (fluid in paratenon, peri-entheseal soft-tissue oedema, entheseal enhancement with gadolinium, entheseal oedema and bone oedema) and ‘damage’ (erosion, cortical roughening and enthesophyte).
Complete scan data were not available for all patients as one patient could not tolerate the MRI examination. No significant differences in imaging scores were found between PsA and RA. Analysis of damage scores revealed complete agreement between US and MRI data in 43/55 (78%) comparisons; in 10/55 (18%) cases the US data were abnormal but the MRI data normal; in 2/55 (4%) cases, the MRI data were abnormal and the US data normal. Analysis of the inflammation scores revealed complete agreement between US and MRI data in 33/55 (60%) comparisons; in 3/55 (5%) cases US data were abnormal but MRI data normal; in 19/55 (35%) cases the MRI data were abnormal and the US data normal. There was a poor relationship between assessments based on clinical examination and imaging studies. Readers could not accurately identify the disease from imaging findings.
Based on our results, at the elbow, US and MR have different roles in assessing enthesitis, with US apparently the better diagnostic tool for assessing damage and MR the better tool for assessing inflammation. In this study enthesitis and synovitis in the painful elbow were found equally in cases of established RA and PsA.