MRI image features with an evident relation to low back pain: a narrative review

J. van der Graaf, R. Kroeze, C. Buckens, N. Lessmann and M. van Hooff

European Spine Journal 2023:1-12.


Purpose: Low back pain (LBP) is one of the most prevalent health condition worldwide and responsible for the most years lived with disability, yet the etiology is often unknown. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is frequently used for treatment decision even though it is often inconclusive. There are many different image features that could relate to low back pain. Conversely, multiple etiologies do relate to spinal degeneration but do not actually cause the perceived pain. This narrative review provides an overview of all possible relevant features visible on MRI images and determines their relation to LBP. Methods: We conducted a separate literature search per image feature. All included studies were scored using the GRADE guidelines. Based on the reported results per feature an evidence agreement (EA) score was provided, enabling us to compare the collected evidence of separate image features. The various relations between MRI features and their associated pain mechanisms were evaluated to provide a list of features that are related to LBP. Results: All searches combined generated a total of 4472 hits of which 31 articles were included. Features were divided into five different categories:'discogenic', 'neuropathic','osseous', 'facetogenic', and'paraspinal', and discussed separately. Conclusion: Our research suggests that type I Modic changes, disc degeneration, endplate defects, disc herniation, spinal canal stenosis, nerve compression, and muscle fat infiltration have the highest probability to be related to LBP. These can be used to improve clinical decision-making for patients with LBP based on MRI.