© 2013 The Korean Academy of Medical Sciences.
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Value of Ultrasound in Rheumatologic Diseases
The use of musculoskeletal ultrasound in rheumatology clinical practice has rapidly
increased over the past decade. Ultrasound has enabled rheumatologists to diagnose,
prognosticate and monitor disease outcome. Although international standardization
remains a concern still, the use of ultrasound in rheumatology is expected to grow further
as costs fall and the opportunity to train in the technique improves. We present a review of
value of ultrasound, focusing on major applications of ultrasound in rheumatologic
Key Words: Rheumatology Ultrasound; Musculoskeletal Ultrasound; Doppler; Arthritis
Taeyoung Kang,1,2 Laura Horton,2
Paul Emery,2 and Richard J. Wakefield2
1Department of Rheumatology, Yonsei Univeristy
Wonju College of Medicine, Wonju, Korea;
2Division of Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Disease
and NIHR Leeds Musculoskeletal Biomedical
Research Unit (LMBRU), University of Leeds, Leeds,
Received: 30 May 2012
Accepted: 25 January 2013
Address for Correspondence:
Dr. Richard J. Wakefield
Division of Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Disease and NIHR
Leeds Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit (LMBRU),
Chapel Allerton Hospital, Leeds LS7 4SA, United Kingdom
Tel: +44.113-392-4916, Fax: +44.113-392-4991
http://dx.doi.org/10.3346/jkms.2013.28.4.497 • J Korean Med Sci 2013; 28: 497-507
Immunology, Allergic Disorders & Rheumatology
The use of musculoskeletal ultrasound in rheumatology has in-
creased dramatically over the past decade both as a result of
technological developments and a desire to identify and treat
inflammation early. High quality ultrasound machines with
good spatial resolution have provided rheumatologists with a
means of identifying inflammation and structural damage, mon-
itoring disease and predicting therapeutic responses. Ultrasound
has clear advantages over other imaging tools such as magnetic
resonance imaging (MRI) in terms of better tolerability, an abil-
ity to scan multiple joints at one sitting and its ability to directly
correlate clinical and imaging findings. Furthermore high reso-
lution gray scale images combined with Doppler technique
have made it possible to detect slow low volume blood flow,
opening new avenues for detecting and grading inflammation
in joints. Based on these developments and increasing interest,
a special Ultrasound Task Force on behalf of Outcome Measures
in Rheumatology Clinical Trial (OMERACT) organization was
formed to develop standardized ways of acquiring images in
addition to defining and scoring pathologies relevant to rheu-
matologists (1). This has provided a framework for collaborative
studies on ultrasound assessment and measurement issues. In
this review, we focus on major values of ultrasound in rheuma-
BRIEF DEVELOPMENTAL HISTORY OF
ULTRASOUND IN RHEUMATOLOGY
After the discovery of the piezo-electric effect in crystals by the
Pierre and Curie brothers in 1880, further research and devel-
opment in piezo-electricity followed. In particular, after the Ti-
tanic sank on its maiden voyage in 1912, scientists spurred on
the development of how to detect submerged objects. The threat
of German submarines to Allied shipping in World War I stimu-
lated more research into the development of ultrasound devic-
es (2). The first recorded detection and subsequent sinking of a
submarine using an ultrasound device (called a hydrophone at
that time) occurred in the Atlantic in 1916 during World War I.
The military use of ultrasound lead to the development of med-
ical diagnostic ultrasound. Of note during World War II, rapid
developments and refinements in military RADAR (Radio De-
tection and Ranging which used electromagnetic waves rather
than ultrasound) was the precursor for subsequent medical ul-
trasound devices. In 1942, the Austrian neurologist-psychiatrist
Karl Theodore Dussik was generally regarded as the first physi-
cian to use ultrasound for medical diagnosis (3). He attempted
to locate brain tumors by measuring the transmission of an ul-
trasound beam through the skull. Later in 1956, Ian Donald
from Scotland and Thomas Graham Brown from Glas gow made
the world’s first two dimensional contact scanner where the
transducer can be moved manually over the patient’s abdomen
Kang T, et al. • Ultrasound in Rheumatology
with a resultant 2-D image reproduced on an oscilloscope. This
brought the capability of ultrasound to a wider audience which
in turn stimulated its further growth.
The first report pertaining to musculoskeletal tissue was in
1958 by Karl Theodore Dussik; titled “Measurement of articular
tissue with ultrasound” and published in the American Journal
of Physical Medicine. In this ex-vivo study, the attenuation of
ultrasound during its propagation through human articular
cartilage was first measured. Since this study was not related
directly to clinical imaging, the study of “Ultrasound B-Scan-
ning in the differentiating of Baker’s Cyst and Thrombophlebi-
tis” in vivo in 1972 by Daniel McDonald and George Leopold is
widely regarded as the first publication of clinically relevant
musculoskeletal ultrasound (4). They described the use of a
contact B-mode scanner to differentiate Backer’s cysts from
thrombophlebitis. In 1969, Nicolaas Bom from the Netherlands
developed the real-time multi-element linear array scanner
which evolved into the very sophisticated real-time scanners
that are widely available today in musculoskeletal ultrasound.
ULTRASOUND IN RHEUMATOLOGY
Since the first gray scale ultrasound demonstration of synovitis
of knee joint in rheumatoid arthritis (5), numerous studies have
demonstrated the clinical utility of ultrasound in evaluating flu-
id, synovial hypertrophy in inflammatory arthritis (6, 7). This
was largely due to the fact that synovitis is the fundamental pa-
thology which is seen in all types of inflammatory arthritis. Gray
scale ultrasound can depict a range of abnormalities from the
minimally thickened synovium to severe hypertrophy with flu-
id, debris and villi (Fig. 1A). Ultrasound has shown its superior-
ity over clinical examination in the detection and assessment of
synovitis, drawing the most attention and support with regard
to the clinical use of ultrasound in rheumatology (8). Further-
more, with the administration of microbubbles contrast agents
to increase backscattering, the sensitivity for the detection of a
thickened, hypervascular synovium can be increased, and bet-
ter quantification of degree of inflammation can be achieved (9,
10). With regard to scoring of gray scale synovitis used in stud-
ies, different scoring systems have been used, ranging from bi-
nary (yes/no) to semiquantitative 4-point (0-3) grading (11, 12).
Assessment of synovial activity expressed by increased vas-
cularity is extremely important to the diagnosis and evaluation
of treatment effect. Traditionally, visualization of synovial in-
flammation has mainly been dominated by MRI. Recently, Dop-
pler ultrasound has been preferred to MRI in clinical practice,
since Doppler mode allows the visualization of microvasculari-
ty within joint cavity and periarticular tissue. Doppler can pro-
vide useful clinical information regarding the presence or ab-
sence of flow through the joint (Fig. 2), which correlates with
ongoing disease activities. The microvascular activity detected
by Doppler ultrasound correlated well with histology specimen
in knee and hip joint (13, 14). Moreover, intra-observer and in-
ter-observer reliability of still image interpretation is high for
gray scale and Doppler (15). Several studies used Doppler for
follow-up assessment after the treatment of corticosteroids and
tumor necrosis factor antagonists (9, 16, 17), showing Doppler
able to detect changes in synovial perfusion. In these studies,
the power or colour Doppler signal was determined semi-quan-
titatively graded on a 0-3 scale (17, 18) or qualitatively.
A semiquantitative grading system in which vascularity is
scored from 0 to 3 according to number or areas of vessel sig-
nals are widely used in clinical practice (19-21). However, the
semi-quantitative scales are not a precise method of vascularity
measurement and can be prone to intra-observer and inter-ob-
server variation. Alternatively, a quantitative scale quantified by
measuring the Doppler colour pixels in the region of interest
have also been used to measure inflammatory activity. Sono-
graphically measured disease activity was quantified by count-
ing colour pixels of region of interest using different vascularity
analysis computer softwares (16, 22, 23), colour fraction defined
as the fraction of colour pixels in a region of interest (24) and
the area under the time–intensity curve with intravenous ultra-
sound contrast agent (9). However, the sensitivity of Doppler
can be varied according to Doppler variables set by the ultraso-
nographer, as well as ultrasound units from different manufac-
turers (25). The lack of consensus make Doppler difficult to ap-
ply in routine clinical practice for assessment of disease activity,
thus there needs to be further agreement on classifying the vas-
With regard to Doppler modalities, both colour and power
Doppler have been used. Power Doppler displays the total back
scattered energy mainly from red blood cells instead of mean
Doppler shift used in colour Doppler. Power Doppler does not
measure blood velocity or direction but is more sensitive to de-
tect microvascular low-velocity flow. Moreover, power Doppler
is less angle dependent compared to colour Doppler and tech-
nologically does not aliase (26). Owing to these theoretical ad-
vantages, power Doppler has been better suited for assessing
musculoskeletal diseases in rheumatology. However, these ad-
vantages of power Doppler have been disappearing in the new-
er high-end machines where the trend is that colour Doppler
now is more sensitive than power Doppler (25).
Tendons are also frequently involved in a wide range of inflam-
matory and non-inflammatory rheumatic diseases. Ultrasound
is one of the best imaging modalities for assessing tendons due
to its high image resolution. When diseased, tendons may be-
come hypoechogenic with loss of a fibrillar pattern, thicker, have
Kang T, et al. • Ultrasound in Rheumatology
internal Doppler signals and a thickened surrounding tendon
sheath which may exhibit Doppler (Fig. 1B). Tendon itself can
show loss of fine fibrillar echotexture, focal thickening and hy-
poechoic (27). Ultrasound has been reported to be more sensi-
tive than MRI for the detection of tenosynovitis (28). However,
in a study by Wakefield et al, the sensitivity and specificity of ul-
trasound were reported 0.15-0.44, and 0.98-0.99 respectively for
tenosynovitis in finger joints of patients with early untreated
Fig. 1. Ultrasound images of joints and peri-articular tissue showing typical signs of common rheumatologic diseases. (A) Longitudinal dorsal scan of the tibiotalar joint. A large
ankle joint effusion with synovial proliferation (arrows) is seen. (B) Transverse and longitudinal scan of 3rd extensor tendon at dorsum of metacarpophalangeal joint showing
tendinopathy represented as swelling of tendon sheath (arrow) in both plane. (C) In the transverse anterior scan of shoulder at 90° internal rotation, bony erosion (arrow) is seen.
(D) MSD crystals are deposited within tendon sheath, causing tenosynovitis of extensor tendons. The high sparkling reflectivity of MSD crystals can make it easier to be detect-
ed and can be differentiated from synovial proliferation. (E) The sonographic double contour sign (arrow) is seen by the deposition of MSD crystals in the cartilage surface layers
of knee joint. It is also characterized by angle independency (not demonstrated). (F) Achilles tendon near calcaneal insertion shows focal increased thickness and loss of fibrillar
Extensor digitorum tendon
Femoral hyaline cartilage
3rd extensor tendon of hand
3rd extensor tendon of hand
Kang T, et al. • Ultrasound in Rheumatology
rheumatoid arhtritis using MRI as the gold standard (29). This
lower value may be related to the lack of standardization of def-
inition of tenosynovitis at that time, which was developed later
Ultrasound combined with power Doppler has been used to
investigate the cause of shoulder pain in patients with rheuma-
toid arthritis. Ultrasound can help to differentiate glenohumeral
synovitis with subdeltoid bursitis, tenosynovitis of biceps ten-
don as the cause of rheumatoid shoulder (30). A study showed
overall good agreement between ultrasound and MRI with re-
gard to synovitis, erosion and bursitis and cuff tear of shoulder
joint in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (31). Ultrasound can
also be used to assess non-inflammatory cause of shoulder
pain. Through a recent meta-analysis study with sixty-two stud-
ies assessing 6066 shoulders, it was concluded that ultrasound
can be regarded as an appropriate technique for the assessment
of rotator cuff tears with an acceptable sensitivity and specifici-
ty (32). In the elbow, both lateral and medial epicondylitis are
due to an overuse injury from repetitive movement of the fore-
arm and the wrist resulting in stressing of the common extensor
or flexor tendons. Ultrasound is also informative and accurate
for the detection of clinical lateral and medial epicondylitis (33,
34). These results can provide convincing evidence of capability
of ultrasound in depicting mechanical tendon diseases as well
as inflammatory causes in rheumatology clinical practice. Al-
though MRI can also detect low grade tendinopathies, the over-
all advantages of repeatability, non-invasiveness, wide availabil-
ity and ability to examine the tendon dynamically have made
ultrasound more valuable tool for detecting tendon diseases.
Thus ultrasound should be regarded as the first imaging mo-
dality for tendon involvement in rheumatologic diseases.
Radiographically detected bone erosion is an important diag-
nostic criterion for rheumatoid arthritis (35) and its presence
implies poor functional outcome. However, plain radiography
can show only the erosions which are tangential to the X-ray
beam direction. In contrast, ultrasound can visualize circum-
ferentially around the bone, which makes it possible to detect
more erosions than simple radiography where erosions may be
lost in the two dimensional projection (Fig. 1C). The first large
study demonstrating the superiority of ultrasound over radiog-
raphy was reported in 2000 (36), showing its ability to detect 6.5
fold more erosions than radiography in early rheumatoid ar-
thritis patients as well as 3.4 fold in late disease. With MRI con-
sidered the reference method, ultrasound has a slightly lower
sensitivity than MRI but similar accuracy for detecting erosions
(37, 38). With regard to scoring of erosions, although scoring
system based on size (36) and semiquantitative scores (39)
have been suggested, no consensus has been made in stan-
dardized scoring system. A wide variety of sizes and locations
within joints with sometimes inaccessible acoustic window
have made it difficult to standardize. In addition, erosions may
be difficult to detect in the context of concomitant osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is traditionally evaluated by conventional radiog-
raphy in spite of the fact that radiography cannot depict articu-
lar cartilage. Ultrasound can overcome this barrier since it can
visualize articular hyaline cartilage as a well defined anechoic
band lacking internal echoes (40). Ultrasound can also show
pathologic signs of articular cartilage in terms of thickness, trans-
parency, sharpness and related osteophytes. Nevertheless, ul-
trasound for the assessment of osteoarthritis seems to have rel-
atively less been focused on compared to rheumatoid arthritis.
Recently, interest in the application of ultrasound in early and
late osteoarthritis is emerging (40, 41).
The first ultrasound study of cartilage in rheumatology dates
back to 1992, where Iagnocco et al. reported diminished knee
cartilage thickness, which is the hallmark of osteoarthritis, in
Fig. 2. Assessment of inflammatory activity can be achieved with power Doppler. (A, B) These are two longitudinal dorsal views through the wrist joint. Both show moderate lev-
els of gray scale and power Doppler abnormalities consistent with active joint disease.
Wrist joint Wrist joint
Kang T, et al. • Ultrasound in Rheumatology
osteoarthritis patients, suggesting ultrasound as a useful non-
invasive method to study articular cartilage (42). Then, several
studies investigated ultrasonographic cartilage abnormalities,
reporting loss of sharp contour and clarity with increased echo-
genecity in joints involved by osteoarthritis (43, 44). MRI can
show precise cartilage loss more sensitively than radiography
and can also provide distinct advantages over radiography for
joint space narrowing and its location (45). However, its use for
the assessment of osteoarthritis has been limited due to high
cost and accessibility in clinical practice. Thus, ultrasound has
been focused on as an alternative valid non-invasive reproduc-
ible imaging modality to detect and quantify cartilage damage
in osteoarthritis. Reflecting these interests, it was reported that
insonation angle and sound speed in cartilage should be taken
into account for accurate thickness measure (46).
There has been increasing evidence that synovitis plays a sig-
nificant role as a contributor in the disease pathogenesis (47).
In osteoarthritic joints, synovitis with similar findings to rheu-
matoid arthritis has been shown (44), supporting major roles of
synovitis in the pathogenesis of osteoarthritis.
Osteophytes appearing as elevated small step-up bony frag-
ment seen in two perpendicular planes close to joint space can
be detected by ultrasound (Fig. 3). Depending on its interposi-
tion, it may be difficult to differentiate from bony erosions and
normal cortical irregularity. Ultrasound can detect more osteo-
phytes compared with conventional radiography osteoarthritis
of hand (48). In erosive osteoarthritis of hands, ultrasound also
found more osteophytes than the radiography although X-ray
may be better to detect the centrally placed erosions where the
acoustic window is poor (49). Several studies have introduced
semiquantitative scoring systems for osteoarthritis in the knee,
hand and hip joint (40, 50, 51), though no consensus has been
reached. Efforts in order to validate scoring systems are being
undertaken by the OMERACT Ultrasound Task Force (52).
Crystal deposit diseases
Crystal deposit diseases are a group of disorders characterized
by the intra and extra-articular deposition of crystals. Mo noso-
dium urate (MSU) crystals as a consequence of raised serum
uric acid level and calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate (CPPD)
crystals are the most common forms. Ultrasound has become a
useful diagnostic tool for gout and pseudogout. The highly spar-
kling reflectivity of MSU (Fig. 1D) and CPPD crystals can be
easily detected with even minimal aggregates within cartilage
and tendon sheaths. Once these crystals are deposited in the
cartilage, the reflectivity of the cartilage is no longer dependent
on the insonation angle of ultrasound beam (53).
The existence of a hyperechoic band over anechoic hyaline
cartilage surface described as a double contour sign are seen in
about 92% of gouty joints (Fig. 1E) (54). It has also been demon-
strated recently that the sonographic double contour signs of
deposition of MSU crystals can be reversed completely on fol-
low-up if sustained normouricemia was achieved (55). In a pi-
lot study in patients with asymptomatic hyperuricemia, the
presence of a double contour sign or hyperechoic cloud area
was predictive of the detection of MSU crystals (56). Moreover,
ultrasound can help distinguish tophi and other subcutaneous
nodules including rheumatoid nodules and lipoma. A tophus,
which is composed of MSU crystals, is most often seen as a het-
erogeneous mass often with intermittent hyperechoic foci com-
pared with rheumatoid nodules which are likely to be more ho-
mogeneous (57). In CPPD disease, the hyperechoic aggregates
are likely to form a band within articular cartilage, which is the
distinct ultrasound feature differentiating MSU crystals (53).
The dense deposit of CPPD crystals ranging from punctate to
large linear deposits can generate acoustic shadowing (58).
The use of ultrasound in spondyloarthropathy is mainly for the
detection of enthesitis such as Achilles tendonitis and plantar
Fig. 3. Osteophyte usually appears as elevated small bony prominence (arrow) at the end of normal bone contour, close to joint space (A). It usually does not show Doppler sig-
Kang T, et al. • Ultrasound in Rheumatology
fasciitis. The other indication is for the detection of peripheral
joint arthritis, similar to rheumatoid arthritis (59). Affected en-
theseal sites show signs of gray scale abnormality characterized
by loss of normal fibrillar structures with an increased thick-
ness or intra-tendinal focal changes with or without Dopper
signals (Fig. 1F). In a large scale study for peripheral enthesitis
in patients with spondyloarthropathies, greater sensitivity for
the detection of enthesitis over clinical examination was re-
ported (60). Power Doppler can also display the degree of se-
verity of enthesial involvement. In contrast, the role of MRI in
the assessment of spondyloarthropathies has mainly been con-
fined to assess axial involvement since MRI lacks sensitivity
and specificity for peripheral enthesitis.
Different scoring systems have also been suggested for en-
thesisitis. Each assesses different sites and different scoring sys-
tems. The earlier ones are only gray scale with the more recent
ones involving Doppler. The first of these reported in 2006 was
the Glasgow Ultrasound Enthesitis Scoring System (GUESS)
which assesses five entheses of lower limb with gray-scale find-
ings (61). Another scoring system SEI (Sonographic Enthesitis
Index) also uses gray scale findings but assess different enthe-
seal sites (62). A more recent Madrid Sonographic Enthesis In-
dex (MASEI) scoring system combined gray scale abnormali-
ties and Doppler activity. However, a recent systematic litera-
ture review by the OMERACT Ultrasound Task Force concluded
that there remains a lack of consensus of how to define and score
enthesitis. One important remit is to develop a score which sep-
arates inflammation from damage. This is a priority area cur-
rently under review by the OMERACT group (63).
Ultrasound guided interventions
Diagnostic and therapeutic musculoskeletal interventions in
rheumatology include a wide range of procedures such as aspi-
ration of fluid from joints, bursa, tendon sheath and cystic le-
sions for diagnostic and therapeutic purpose as well as steroid
injections into joint cavities and soft tissues. Real time visualiza-
tion of the needle and injected steroid by ultrasound enables
the reliable placement of the needle tip in the joint cavity, bursa,
tendon sheaths and intra-tendon (Fig. 4) (64). However, some
studies reported no significant difference in accuracy between
the blind and ultrasound-guided method (65, 66), although
these results are studies of the larger joints such as knee and
shoulder. In the relatively small interphalangeal joints and diffi-
cult joints to be accessed due to complex anatomy such as wrist
and ankle, accurate needle positioning can be a particular chal-
lenge (67). In these joints, sonographic needle guidance have
demonstrated improved accuracy and better clinical outcomes
com pared with conventional palpation-guided blind methods
(68, 69). Furthermore, Doppler can help the precise placement
of the needle tip into the most inflamed intra-region, making
the overall clinical outcomes better. A recent systematic review
compared the accuracy of ultrasound-guided intra-articular in-
jections with blind injections using palpation or anatomic land-
marks, and confirmed that ultrasound-guidance raised the ac-
curacy of injections independent of anatomic site (70).
Vasculitis is an autoimmune disease characterized by the in-
flammation of the vessel wall. The lumen of large arteries can
be measured and information about vessel wall, pulsatility and
blood flow characteristics can be obtained using duplex mode.
In rheumatology, the first ultrasound report for the diagnosis of
arteritis was for giant cell (temporal) arteritis in 1995 (71). Since
then, giant cell arteritis has drawn the most interest in arterits
in rheumatology (71, 72). Affected temporal arteries showed
edema, stenosis or occlusion characterized by a hypoechoic
halo around a narrowed lumen due to edema of arterial wall,
which may make possible the diagnosis of temporal arteritis
without performing a temporal-artery biopsy (73).
Since then, the scope of vasculitis evaluated with ultrasound
Fig. 4. Ultrasound guided intra-articular injection of 3rd proximal interphalageal joint of hand. (A) The tip and shaft of metallic needle (arrows) can be easily identified. (B) The
crystalline steroid suspension can be observed on the screen as fine hyperechoic clouds or spots (arrow), which can increase the accuracy of injection.
3rd proximal interphalangeal joint3rd proximal interphalangeal joint
Proximal phalanx Proximal phalanxDistal phalanxDistal phalanx
Kang T, et al. • Ultrasound in Rheumatology
in rheumatology has expanded to Wegener’s granulomatosis
(74), finger arteritis in systemic sclerosis (75) and Raynaud’s
phenomenon (76), in which ultrasound showed superiority to
visualize the narrowed lumen with thicken arterial wall. High
resolution ultrasound may aid to differentiate primary and sec-
ondary Raynaud’s phenomenon by depicting the vessels as an-
giography. At present, ultrasound for the assessment of arteritis
is expected to be a valuable tool for diagnostic workup and mon-
itoring in rheumatology.
Sjögren syndrome/salivary glands
The normal ultrasound echogenicity of major salivary glands is
homogeneous. As affected glands gradually become fibrotic,
the parenchyma becomes inhomogeneous with multiple scat-
tered small oval hypoechoic or anechoic areas with flow ob-
served within the glands in Doppler (Fig. 5) (77, 78). These find-
ings appear to have a high sensitivity and specificity for primary
Sjögren syndrome (79). Ultrasound findings of parotid glands
correlated well with MRI, showing a similar diagnostic accura-
cy compared to MRI (80) and sialography (81). Moreover, addi-
tional vascularity information in the glands obtained by spec-
tral Doppler in terms of resistive index and pulsatility index can
be helpful for the diagnosis of Sjögren syndrome (82). However,
inconsistent ultrasonographic diagnostic sensitivity ranging
43%-93% and specificity ranging 64%-100% for Sjögren syn-
drome have been reported (81, 83, 84). These inconsistencies
could be caused by lack of ultrasonographic classification crite-
ria for Sjögren syndrome. Moreover, a different ultrasonograph-
ic scoring system based on morphologic changes observed in
gray scale ultrasound has been suggested for primary Sjögren
syndrome (79, 85). Despite these flaws, the overall diagnostic
accuracy of an ultrasound scoring system for primary Sjögren
syndrome was comparable to salivary scintigraphy and salivary
gland biopsy (81). Since ultrasound can demonstrate valuable
objective evidence of glandular involvement of Sjögren syn-
drome, it is regarded as an emerging imaging method of first
choice in patients suspected of having sicca syndrome (86).
Sjögren syndrome is frequently associated with a variety of B
cell lymphomas and other lymphoproliferative disorders (87).
Sometimes the differential diagnosis of ultrasonographic find-
ings can be challenging, thus meticulous studies should be un-
dertaken if concomitant lymphoma cannot be ruled out as well
as the appreciation that ultrasound cannot always exclude more
severe pathologies in which case other imaging may be employ-
Inflammatory muscle diseases
Skeletal muscles appears relatively hypoechogenic under nor-
mal circumstances in contrast to echogenic fibroadipose septa
and fascia. In rheumatology, idiopathic inflammatory muscle
diseases including polymyositis, dermatomyositis and inclu-
sion body myositis can affect skeletal muscles focally and dif-
fusely. On ultrasound, affected muscle can show thickening
and areas of hypoechogenicity different to the normal surroun-
ding muscle. Increased Doppler activity within the affected
muscles can be observed. Ultrasound-guided closed muscle
biopsy can also provide a minimally invasive approach for the
diagnosis of focal myositis (89). However, the role of ultrasound
in the assessment of inflammatory muscle diseases in rheuma-
tology have not yet been fully identified.
Limitations of ultrasound in rheumatology
The use of ultrasound in rheumatological diseases may be lim-
ited by several factors. The ultrasound beam cannot penetrate
bone, making it impossible to visualize intraosseous changes
such as bone marrow edema. Additionally, the ultrasound beam
is attenuated (absorbed, refracted, diffracted or lost as heat) the
deeper into tissue it goes and so images are less clear when in-
terrogating deeper structures even when low frequency probes
are used. Moreover, joints with a limited acoustic window due
to anatomical restriction such as the hip, and wrist may have a
lower sensitivity to detect erosions and involvement of synovial
pathologies. Although high intra-observer and inter-observer
reliability have been reported (31, 90, 91), the detection of ultra-
sonographic abnormalities depends on the individual operator.
However the studies from the OME RACT group have demon-
strated that with standardization, operator dependency can be
diminished. To become an expert, plenty of clinical experience
and a long period of training is needed. EULAR (European Lea-
gue Against Rheumatism) and the ACR (American College of
Rheumatology) are currently setting out curricula and standard
operating procedures for the acquisition and reading of ultra-
Three dimensional (3D) ultrasound provides an interesting as-
pect for the volumetric assessment of tissue blocks and quanti-
fication of region of interests. The saved images can be viewed
Fig. 5. Transverse view of the parotid gland in a patient with primary Sjögren syn-
drome. Affected glands can show parenchymal inhomogenecity with multiple oval
shaped small hypoechoic changes (courtesy of Sandrine Jousse-Joulin).
Dist 4.68 cm
Dist 1.38 cm
Surf 4.99 cm2
Kang T, et al. • Ultrasound in Rheumatology
in sagittal, coronal and axial planes and relatively operator in-
dependent compared to two dimensional (2D) ultrasound im-
aging. The 3D images had a good correlation with 2D images
for detection of synovitis and bone erosion (92) and was able to
delineate the shape of the synovium in the knee joint (93). The
use of 3D ultrasound currently remains mainly in the research
area due to relatively low image quality and additional cost.
Sonoelastography measures the strain of the tissues by ana-
lyzing ultrasound echo signals while the probe compresses or
relaxes the tissue (94). The compression wave may be generat-
ed by the operator (compression elastography) or by the probe
(shear wave elastography). In rheumatology, sonoelastography
has shown promising results in detecting changes in Achilles
tendons (95) (Fig. 6), and elbow ligaments (96) and has allowed
the differentiation between rheumatoid nodules and gout to-
phi (97). In systemic sclerosis patients, sonoelastography can
demonstrate reduction of strain caused by loss of elasticity in
the dermis (98). Since sonoelastography has started to be ap-
plied in rheumatologic diseases recently, more comprehensive
and extended studies are needed to establish the contribution
of sonoelastography in rheumatologic diseases.
Another interesting advance is known as fusion imaging. Here
the ultrasound image is fused with MRI or Computed Tomog-
raphy (CT) image to combine the advantages of real time image
acquisition by ultrasound with better depiction of bone and
soft tissue lesions. This technique can be used to improve injec-
tion accuracy of joints with difficult access such as sacroiliac
joint (99). However, the usefulness of fusion imaging in rheu-
matology should be decided in the future since there is lack of
clinical research data.
Ultrasound is becoming an essential tool in the management of
rheumatology patients through its gradual incorporation into
routine clinical use in many countries and rheumatology cen-
ters. Evidence for the reliability, validity as well as clinical value
of ultrasound is increasing with continuing studies of this mo-
dality. Future development in technology together with con-
sensus of international and national educational programs will
spur the wider application of ultrasound for various rheumato-
logic diseases, enabling it to become a powerful imaging tool
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