Back pain and degenerative abnormalities in the spine of young elite divers: a 5-year follow-up magnetic resonance imaging study

Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2006 Sep;14(9):907-14. doi: 10.1007/s00167-005-0032-3. Epub 2006 Jan 17.


Several studies have been published on disc degeneration among young athletes in sports with great demands on the back, but few on competitive divers; however, there are no long-term follow-up studies. Twenty elite divers between 10 and 21 years of age, with the highest possible national ranking, were selected at random without knowledge of previous or present back injuries or symptoms for an MRI study of the thoraco-lumbar spine in a 5-year longitudinal study. The occurrence of MRI abnormalities and their correlation with back pain were evaluated. Eighty-nine percent of the divers had a history of back pain and the median age at the first episode of back pain was 15 years. Sixty-five percent of the divers had MRI abnormalities in the thoraco-lumbar spine already at baseline. Only one diver without abnormalities at baseline had developed abnormalities at follow-up. Deterioration of any type of abnormality was found in 9 of 17 (53%) divers. Including all disc levels in all divers, the total number of abnormalities increased by 29% at follow-up, as compared to baseline. The most common abnormalities were reduced disc signal, Schmorl's nodes, and disc height reduction. Since almost all divers had previous or present back pain, a differentiated analysis of the relationship between pain and MRI findings was not possible. However, the high frequency of both back pain and MRI changes suggests a causal relationship. In conclusion, elite divers had high frequency of back pain at young ages and they run a high risk of developing degenerative abnormalities of the thoraco-lumbar spine, probably due to injuries to the spine during the growth spurt.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Back Pain / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Diving / physiology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiopathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Spinal Diseases / pathology*
  • Spinal Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / pathology
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / physiopathology