What Is Non-Radiographic Axial Spondyloarthritis (nr-axSpA)?

Chronic back pain is a hallmark symptom of this type of arthritis.

Loading the player...

When you think of arthritis, you may automatically picture someone holding a wrist or ankle. What many people don’t know is that arthritis comes in many forms, and can affect any joint in the body—not just the hands or feet.

Non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis (nr-AxSpA), is one type of inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the spine. It falls under an umbrella of arthritis diseases that affect the spine, called spondyloarthritis.

The Signs of nr-axSpA

Chronic back pain is the hallmark symptom of nr-axSpA, but people may also experience pain and inflammation in other parts of their body as well. Learn more about the symptoms of nr-axSpA.

The “nr” in nr-axSpA stands for “non-radiographic,” which is what differentiates it from another type of arthritis that affects the spine, called ankylosing spondylitis. Non-radiographic is just a fancy way of saying there’s no damage visible on X-rays. In patients with ankylosing spondylitis, however, damage to the bone is visible on X-rays. Technically, nr-axSpA can be an early-stage ankylosing spondylitis.

Diagnosing + Treating nr-axSpA

There’s no one test that diagnoses nr-axSpA. To diagnose nr-axSpA, doctors will often look at a variety of factors and tests, such as:

  • Evidence of inflammation of the sacroiliac (SI) joints on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Symptoms, such as chronic back pain and stiffness
  • Age (nr-axSpA often presents before age 45)
  • Gender
  • Blood tests (many people with nr-axSpA carry a gene called HLA-B27)

Learn more about how nr-axSpA is diagnosed here.

Once nr-axSpA is diagnosed, the goals of treatment are to:

  • Relieve symptoms
  • Maintain function and quality of life
  • Prevent complications
  • Minimize the risk other conditions that are associated with nr-axSpA, such as psoriasis or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

The first line of treatment is often non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and physical therapy. If that doesn’t work, other medicines, such as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or biologics, may be prescribed. Learn more about how nr-axSpA is treated.