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Open Access Commentary

Might axial myofascial properties and biomechanical mechanisms be relevant to ankylosing spondylitis and axial spondyloarthritis?

Alfonse T Masi

Author Affiliations

Department of Medicine, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, One Illini Drive, Peoria, IL 61656, USA

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2014, 16:107  doi:10.1186/ar4532

Published: 8 April 2014

Abstract

Ankylosing spondylitis and axial spondyloarthropathy have characteristic age- and sex-specific onset patterns, typical entheseal lesions, and marked heritability, but the integrative mechanisms causing the pathophysiological and structural alterations remain largely undefined. Myofascial tissues are integrated in the body into webs and networks which permit transmission of passive and active tensional forces that provide stabilizing support and help to control movements. Axial myofascial hypertonicity was hypothesized as a potential excessive polymorphic trait which could contribute to chronic biomechanical overloading and exaggerated stresses at entheseal sites. Such a mechanism may help to integrate many of the characteristic host, pathological, and structural features of ankylosing spondylitis and axial spondyloarthritis. Biomechanical stress and strain were recently documented to correlate with peripheral entheseal inflammation and new bone formation in a murine model of spondyloarthritis. Ankylosing spondylitis has traditionally been classified by the modified New York criteria, which require the presence of definite radiographic sacroiliac joint lesions. New classification criteria for axial spondyloarthritis now include patients who do not fulfill the modified New York criteria. The male-to-female sex ratios clearly differed between the two patient categories - 2:1 or 3:1 in ankylosing spondylitis and 1:1 in non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis - and this suggests a spectral concept of disease and, among females, milder structural alterations. Magnetic resonance imaging of active and chronic lesions in ankylosing spondylitis and axial spondyloarthritis reveals complex patterns, usually interpreted as inflammatory reactions, but shows similarities to acute degenerative disc disease, which attributed to edema formation following mechanical stresses and micro-damage. A basic question is whether mechanically induced microinjury and immunologically mediated inflammatory mechanisms operate in both ankylosing spondylitis and degenerative disc disease but differ in relative degrees. The hypothesized biomechanical properties raised in this commentary require documentation of their association with the onset risk and course of ankylosing spondylitis and axial spondyloarthritis. If particular subsets of ankylosing spondylitis and axial spondyloarthritis patients are confirmed to have altered axial myofascial properties, their biological basis and underlying biomechanical mechanisms promise to become clarified. Understanding how biomechanical and physical properties can affect symptomatic and structural manifestations of these disorders could also improve their management.