Objective: To assess MRI changes in the ankle and foot after physical exercise.
Design and patients: Nineteen non-professional marathon runners and 19 age- and sex-matched controls volunteered for the study. All had ankle and foot MR images (1.5 T) taken in three perpendicular planes (STIR, T2F and T1FS sequences) within 3 h of running a full-length marathon (42.125 km). Three radiologists independently analysed the groups on a masked basis using a predefined form.
Results: Severe bone marrow oedema was seen in one and slight bone marrow oedema in three marathon runners. Slight bone marrow oedema was found in three control subjects. Signal alteration within the soleus muscle, consistent with a grade 1 strain, was found in one marathon runner. Small punctate hyperintensities within the Achilles tendon were seen in 26% of the marathon runners and in 63% of controls (P = 0.016). An increased amount of fluid in the retrocalcaneal bursa was found in one control and in none of the marathon runners. Small amounts of fluid in the retrocalcaneal bursa were seen in 68% of marathon runners and in 53% of controls. Grade 1 or 2 peritendinous joint fluid was found around 22% of tendons, among both marathon runners and controls, most often involving the tendon sheath of the flexor hallucis longus muscle. An increased amount of joint fluid was noted in 34% of the joints of the marathon runners, and in 18% of the controls.
Conclusion: MRI shows several abnormalities in the ankle and foot both after marathon races and in asymptomatic physically active individuals without any preceding extraordinary strain. Recreational sports may lead to a number of positive MRI findings without correlation with clinical findings.