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Compared imaging of the rheumatoid cervical spine: Prevalence study and associated factors

PainSci » bibliography » Younes et al 2009
Tags: neck, arthritis, chronic pain, counter-intuitive, imaging, head/neck, spine, aging, pain problems, diagnosis

Two articles on PainSci cite Younes 2009: 1. The Complete Guide to Neck Pain & Cricks2. Sensitization in Chronic Pain

PainSci commentary on Younes 2009: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

Surprisingly, disease-driven erosion of cervical joints can be painless. Rheumatoid arthritis — a nasty disease, quite different from garden variety “wear and tear” osteoarthritis — commonly attacks the joints of the neck, causing significant deformity of the joints. Although this does often cause severe pain, it doesn’t always: this study reports that 17% of 29 patients were asymptomatic, even with substantial joint degradation revealed by MRI, CT, or X-ray.

Another important finding of this study: whether it hurts or not, the cervical spine was damaged in 75% of patients: “Cervical spine involvement is common and may be asymptomatic, indicating that routine cervical spine imaging is indicated in patients with RA.”

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

INTRODUCTION: Cervical spine involvement is common and potentially severe in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The objectives of this study were to compare the prevalences of cervical spine abnormalities detected by standard radiography, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in patients with RA; and to identify factors associated with cervical spine involvement.

METHODS: We studied 40 patients who met American College of Rheumatology criteria for RA and had disease durations of 2 years or more. Each patient underwent a physical examination, laboratory tests, standard radiographs (anteroposterior, lateral, open-mouth, flexion, and extension views), MRI with dynamic maneuvers in (if not contraindicated), and CT.

RESULTS: Cervical spine involvement was found by at least one imaging technique in 29 (72.5%) patients (standard radiography, 47.5%; CT, 28.2%; and MRI, 70%) and was asymptomatic in 5 (17.2%) patients. C1-C2 pannus was the most common lesion (62.5% of cases), followed by atlantoaxial subluxation (AAS, 45%). The most common AAS pattern was anterior subluxation (25%), followed by lateral subluxation (15%) then by vertical, rotatory, and subaxial subluxations (10% each). Erosions of the dens were seen in 67.5% of patients by MRI, 41% by CT, and 12.5% by standard radiography. Of the 10 cases of anterior AAS by any modality, 9 were detected by standard radiography and 7 by MRI. CT was the best technique for visualizing atypical rotatory or lateral AAS. MRI was best for assessing the C1-C2 pannus, dens erosions, and neurologic impact of the rheumatoid lesions. The comparison of patients with and without cervical spine lesions suggested that higher modified Sharp score and C-reactive protein values predicted cervical spine involvement (P=0.002 and P=0.004, respectively).

CONCLUSION: Cervical spine involvement is common and may be asymptomatic, indicating that routine cervical spine imaging is indicated in patients with RA. Standard radiography including dynamic views constitutes the first-line imaging method of choice. Sensitivity and comprehensiveness of the assessment are greatest with MRI. MRI and CT are often reserved for selected patients. Cervical spine involvement is associated with disease activity and with rapidly progressive joint destruction.

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