OBJECTIVE: Sacroiliac (SI) joint bone marrow edema (BME) is considered to be pivotal in the detection of early spondyloarthritis. However, the link between BME and development of spondyloarthritis-related bone remodeling remains unclear. This study was undertaken to investigate the evolution of BME and structural lesions in the SI joints over time.
METHODS: Baseline and 4-year follow-up magnetic resonance imaging scans were conducted in 604 patients ages 18-40 years who were referred with low back pain to an outpatient spine clinic. Eight SI joint regions were scored for BME and categorized as absent, limited (<25% of subcortical bone region), intermediate (25-50%), or extensive (>50%). Structural lesions including erosions and fat lesions were scored as absent or present.
RESULTS: SI joint BME was seen at either time point (baseline or at 4 years) in 41% of participants but was persistent at both time points in only 16% of participants. Structural SI joint lesions developed according to the extent of BME at baseline: limited, intermediate, and extensive BME (as compared to absent BME) were independently associated with erosion at follow-up with odds ratios (ORs) of 3, 5, and 46, respectively, and with fat lesions (ORs 3, 7, and 33, respectively). In regions with limited and intermediate BME at baseline, 60% and 50% had resolved by follow-up, respectively, while only 2% and 7% had evolved into extensive BME by follow-up.
CONCLUSION: While extensive SI joint BME was a strong independent predictor of development of structural lesions, limited and intermediate BME were mostly transient and only rarely evolved into extensive BME or structural lesions. These findings enhance our understanding of the natural development of SI joint lesions and indicate different progression patterns for limited/intermediate versus extensive BME, possibly due to different etiologies.