Purpose: To evaluate whether positional magnetic resonance (MR) images of the lumbar spine demonstrate nerve root compromise not visible on MR images obtained with the patient in a supine position (conventional MR images).
Materials and methods: Thirty patients with chronic low back pain unresponsive to nonsurgical treatment and with disk abnormalities but without compression of neural structures were included. Positional MR images were obtained by using an open-configuration, 0.5-T MR imager with the patients seated and with flexion and extension of their backs. The disk and nerve root were related to the body position. Nerve root compression and foraminal size were correlated with the patient's symptoms, as assessed with a visual analogue scale.
Results: Nerve root contact without deviation was present in 34 of 152 instances in the supine position, in 62 instances in the seated flexion position, and in 45 instances in the seated extension position. As compared with the supine position, in the seated flexion position nerve root deviation decreased from 10 to eight instances; in the seated extension position, it increased from 10 to 13 instances. Nerve root compression was seen in one patient in the seated extension position. Positional pain score differences were significantly related to changes in foraminal size (P =.046) but not to differences in nerve root compromise.
Conclusion: Positional MR imaging more frequently demonstrates minor neural compromise than does conventional MR imaging. Positional pain differences are related to position-dependent changes in foraminal size.