Prevalence of degenerative imaging findings in lumbar magnetic resonance imaging among young adults

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2009 Jul 15;34(16):1716-21. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e3181ac5fec.


Study design: A cross-sectional imaging study of young adults.

Objective: To investigate the prevalence of disc degeneration (DD) and displacement, anular tears, and Modic changes in lumbar magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) among young adults.

Summary of background data: Although low back pain in young adulthood is common, the prevalence of spinal MRI findings at this age remains virtually unknown.

Methods: The study population was a subcohort of the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986. Subjects living within 100 km of Oulu (n = 874) were invited to participate in lumbar MRI at 20 to 22 years of age (mean: 21.2 years). Degree of DD, type of Modic changes, and presence of disc bulges, herniations, high intensity zone (HIZ) lesions, and radial tears at all lumbar levels were assessed.

Results: Three hundred twenty-five women and 233 men (n = 558) attended the MR imaging. DD was significantly more frequent in men (54% vs. 42%, P = 0.005), as was multiple DD (21% vs. 14%, P = 0.036). The prevalences of disc bulges and radial tears were 25% and 9.1%, respectively, without gender differences. HIZ lesions were more common among women than men (8.6% vs. 4.3%, P = 0.046), whereas herniations were significantly more common among men (5.6% vs. 2.5%, P = 0.047). Only 2 disc extrusions were observed, one in each gender. All degenerative disc findings were more common at the L5-S1 level except HIZ lesions, which were most likely at L4-L5. The prevalence of the Modic changes was 1.4%, without gender difference, type I being more common than type II. Typically, Modic changes were located adjacent to a DD Grade 4 disc and at the 2 lowest levels.

Conclusion: Almost half of young Finnish adult aged 21 years had at least one degenerated disc, and a quarter had a bulging disc. Modic changes and disc herniations were, however, relatively rare.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / diagnosis*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / epidemiology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Radiography
  • Spinal Diseases / diagnosis
  • Spinal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Young Adult