Study design: Asymptomatic volunteers underwent magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how different positions affect lumbar intervertebral discs.
Objective: To quantify sagittal migration of the lumbar nucleus pulposus in 6 functional positions.
Summary of background data: Previous studies of the intervertebral disc response in the sagittal plane were limited to imaging of recumbent positions. Developments of upright magnetic resonance imaging permit investigation of functional weight-bearing positions.
Methods: T2-weighted sagittal scans of the L1-L2 to L5-S1 discs were taken of 11 volunteers in standing, sitting (upright, flexed, and in extension), supine, and prone extension. Sagittal migration of the nucleus pulposus was measured (mm) as distance from anterior disc boundary to peak pixel intensity. Lumbar lordosis (Cobb angle) was measured in each position.
Results: Fifteen comparisons between positions showed significant positional effects (14 at L4-L5, L5-S1, the most mobile segments). Prone extension and supine lying induced significantly less posterior migration than sitting. Flexed and upright sitting, significantly more than standing at L4-L5, as did flexed sitting compared with extended.
Conclusion: These results support for the first time the validity of clinical assumptions about disc behavior in functional positions: sitting postures may increase risk of posterior derangement, and prone and supine may be therapeutic for symptoms caused by posterior disc displacement.