OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the occurrence and progression of facet joint ankylosis in the whole spine using low-dose CT (ldCT) in radiographic axial spondyloarthritis (r-axSpA) and compare progression of facet joint ankylosis and syndesmophytes.
METHODS: Patients with r-axSpA from the Sensitive Imaging in Ankylosing Spondylitis (SIAS) cohort underwent ldCT at baseline (n = 60) and 2 years (n = 53). Facet joints (right and left, levels C2-S1) were scored as ankylosed, not ankylosed or unable to assess. Joints that were frequently poorly visible (>15% missing), were excluded. Inter-reader reliability on the patient level was assessed with intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) and smallest detectable change (SDC). Ankylosis was assessed at joint level and patient level for both timepoints. Syndesmophytes were assessed with CT syndesmophyte score.
RESULTS: Levels C5-T2 were difficult to assess and excluded from all further analyses. Facet joint ICCs were good to excellent for status scores (0.72-0.93) and poor to excellent for progression scores (0.10-0.91). Facet joint ankylosis was detected at every level but most frequently in the thoracic joints. In total, 48% of patients showed 2-year progression. Most progression occurred in the thoracic segment. Using SDCs as cutoff, 18% of patients had progression of facet joint ankylosis only, whereas 20% of patients had progression of syndesmophytes only.
CONCLUSION: This is the first study evaluating facet joints in the whole spine by ldCT in r-axSpA. Facet joint ankylosis was detected most often in the thoracic spine. Assessing facet joints in addition to syndesmophytes detected substantially more patients with damage progression over two years.