Background and purpose: The clinical importance of lumbar MR imaging findings is unclear. This study was an exploratory investigation of whether lumbar spine MR imaging findings change more commonly during a 12-week period in individuals with acute low back pain compared with pain-free controls.
Materials and methods: Twenty individuals with recent-onset low back pain and 10 pain-free controls were recruited into an exploratory prospective cohort study. All participants had a lumbar spine MR imaging at baseline and repeat MR imaging scans at 1, 2, 6, and 12 weeks. The proportion of individuals who had MR imaging findings that changed during the 12-week period was compared with the same proportion in the controls.
Results: In 85% of subjects, we identified a change in at least 1 MR imaging finding during the 12 weeks; however, the proportion was similar in the controls (80%). A change in disc herniation, annular fissure, and nerve root compromise was reported more than twice as commonly in the subjects as in controls (65% versus 30%, 25% versus 10%, and 15% versus 0%, respectively). Caution is required in interpreting these findings due to wide confidence intervals, including no statistical difference. For all other MR imaging findings, the proportions of subjects and controls in whom MR imaging findings were reported to change during 12 weeks were similar.
Conclusions: Changes in MR imaging findings were observed in a similar proportion of the low back pain and control groups, except for herniations, annular fissures, and nerve root compromise, which were twice as common in subjects with low back pain.