Objective: Inflammation plays a central role in the pathophysiology of rheumatic diseases as well as in osteoarthritis. Temperature, which can be quantified using infrared thermography, provides information about the inflammatory component of joint diseases. This systematic review aims at assessing infrared thermography potential and limitations in these pathologies.
Design: A systematic review was performed on 3 major databases: PubMed, Cochrane library, and Web of Science, on clinical reports of any level of evidence in English language, published from 1990 to May 2021, with infrared thermography used for diagnosis of osteoarthritis and rheumatic diseases, monitoring disease progression, or response to treatment. Relevant data were extracted, collected in a database, and analyzed for the purpose of this systematic review.
Results: Of 718 screened articles 32 were found to be eligible for inclusion, for a total of 2094 patients. Nine studies reported the application to osteoarthritis, 21 to rheumatic diseases, 2 on both. The publication trend showed an increasing interest in the last decade. Seven studies investigated the correlation of temperature changes with osteoarthritis, 16 with rheumatic diseases, and 2 with both, whereas 2 focused on the pre-post evaluation to investigate treatment results in patients with osteoarthritis and 5 in patients with rheumatic diseases. A correlation was shown between thermal findings and disease presence and stage, as well as the clinical assessment of disease activity and response to treatment, supporting infrared thermography role in the study and management of rheumatic diseases and osteoarthritis.
Conclusions: The systematic literature review showed an increasing interest in this technology, with several applications in different joints affected by inflammatory and degenerative pathologies. Infrared thermography proved to be a simple, accurate, noninvasive, and radiation-free method, which could be used in addition to the currently available tools for screening, diagnosis, monitoring of disease progression, and response to medical treatment.
Keywords: infrared thermography; joints; osteoarthritis; rheumatic diseases.