Pain sensitisation and joint inflammation in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis

Khaldoun Chaabo, Estee Chan, Toby Garrood, Zoe Rutter-Locher, Alex Vincent, James Galloway, Sam Norton, Bruce W. Kirkham*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction Despite better therapies and strategies, many people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have persistent pain, often from abnormal pain processing, now termed nociplastic pain. However, RA patients with fibromyalgia (FM), a central nociplastic pain syndrome, also have power doppler ultrasound (PDUS+) joint inflammation. To understand the complex causes of pain, we performed clinical examination and patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs) plus comprehensive PDUS evaluation not previously combined. Methods In a cross-sectional study of sequential RA patients with at least moderate DAS28 erythrocyte sedimentation rate disease activity, we assessed 66/68 joints for swelling and tenderness, respectively, FM American College of Rheumatology 2010 diagnostic criteria, completed PROMs for function, quality of life and mood, alongside PDUS examination of 44 joints. Statistical analysis included logistic regression modelling and regularised (lasso) logistic regression methods. Results From 158 patients, 72 (46%) patients met FM criteria, with significantly worse tender joint counts and PROMs, but no differences in PDUS compared with the non-FM group. Categorising patients by PDUS+ joint presence and/or FM criteria, we identified four distinct groups: 43 (27.2%) patients with -FM-PD, 43 (27.2%) with -FM+PD, 42 (26.6%) with +FM-PD and 30 (19%) with +FM+PD. Both FM+ groups had worse PROMs for fatigue, mood and pain, compared with the FM- groups. We were unable to develop algorithms to identify different groups. Conclusion The unexpected group -FM-PD group may have peripheral nociplastic pain, not commonly recognised in rheumatology. Only 46% of patients demonstrated PDUS+ inflammation. However clinical examination and PROMs did not reliably differentiate groups, emphasising PDUS remains an important tool.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere003784
JournalRMD Open
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2024


  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Patient Reported Outcome Measures


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