MRI can Help Identify How Arthritis Progresses, Study Shows

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is useful for identifying arthritis and other joint diseases, but researchers on a new study found that it could be used to measure bone density and sclerosis--abnormal hardening of the bone.

Subchondral bone sclerosis can be a sign of arthritis, but it can also be a sign of the physiologic adaptation of bone to exercise.

Julien Olive, DVM, MSc, and his colleagues from the University of Montreal compared MRI with computed tomography (CT) to see if they could tell the difference between physiologic (from exercise) and pathologic (diseased) sclerosis, and whether they could measure the progression of the sclerosis.

"The only way to limit excessive bone sclerosis is to limit overload of joints and, therefore, limit exercise," he said. "That doesn't mean that all horses should be rested all the time! But with MRI, we can see progression of individual joint parameters leading to osteoarthritis and, therefore, it is the preferred method to identify disease earlier and follow progression of the disease to better adapt training programs."

Cartilage can be evaluated by surgical arthroscopy, which is invasive, and CT examination, but bone marrow lesions, a sign of bone inflammation, cannot be seen on CT, but can be seen on MRI.

Olive said that MR will become routine for assessing equine joint health.

"The main advantage of MRI over all other modalities when evaluating an osteoarthritis joint is the 'all-in-one' aspect of this technique," he said. "MRI is not just good for soft tissues (ligaments, tendons, etc.) but allows a complete evaluation of joints, including bone parameters."

The study, "Correlation of signal attenuation-based quantitative magnetic resonance imaging with quantitative computed tomographic measurements of subchondral bone mineral density in metacarpophalangeal joints of horses" was published in the April issue of the American Journal of Veterinary Research.

The abstract is available on PubMed.

About the Author

Marie Rosenthal, MS

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