Study design: Prospective MR analysis of the cervical spine of 30 asymptomatic volunteers.
Objectives: To evaluate the prevalence of annular tears, bulging discs, disc herniations and medullary compression on T2-weighted and gadolinium-enhanced T1-weighted magnetic resonance (MR) images of the cervical spine in symptom free volunteers.
Summary of background data: Few studies have reported the prevalence of cervical disc herniations in asymptomatic people, none have reported the prevalence of cervical annular tears on MR images of symptom free volunteers.
Materials and methods: Thirty symptom-free volunteers (no history or symptoms related to the cervical spine) were examined using sagittal T2-weighted fast spin-echo (SE), sagittal gadolinium-enhanced T1-weighted SE imaging and axial T2(*)-weighted gradient echo (GRE). The prevalence of bulging discs, focal protrusions, extrusions, nonenhancing or enhancing annular tears and medullary compression were assessed.
Results: The prevalence of bulging disk and focal disk protrusions was 73% (22 volunteers) and 50% (15 volunteers), respectively. There was one extrusion (3%). Eleven volunteers had annular tears at one or more levels (37%) and 94% of the annular tears enhanced after contrast injection. Asymptomatic medullary compression was found in four patients (13%).
Conclusion: Annular tears and focal disk protrusions are frequently found on MR imaging of the cervical spine, with or without contrast enhancement, in asymptomatic population. The extruded disk herniation and medullary compression are unusual findings in a symptom-free population.