To verify whether magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)–proven joint injury is sensitive as compared with joint injury determined by physical examination.


MRI of the wrist and finger joints of both hands was examined in 51 early-stage rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients by both plain and gadolinium diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid–enhanced MRI. Synovitis, bone edema, and bone erosion (the latter two included as bone lesions at the wrist joints); metacarpophalangeal joints; and proximal interphalangeal joints were considered as MRI-proven joint injury. Japan College of Rheumatology–certified rheumatologists had given a physical examination just before the MRI study. The presence of tender and/or swollen joints in the same fields as MRI was considered as joint injury on physical examination. The association of MRI-proven joint injury with physical examination–proven joint injury was examined.


A total of 1,110 sites were available to be examined. MRI-proven joint injury was found in 521 sites, whereas the other 589 sites were normal. Physical examination–proven joint injury was found in 305 sites, which was significantly low as compared with MRI-proven joint injury (P = 1.1 × 10−12 versus MRI). Joint injury on physical examination was not found in 81.5% of the sites where MRI findings were normal. Furthermore, an association of the severity of MRI-proven joint injury with that of joint injury on physical examination was clearly demonstrated (P = 1.6 × 10−15, rs = 0.469).


Our present data suggest that MRI is not only sensitive but accurately reflects the joint injury in patients with early-stage RA.