Background: Most lesions of the spine of athletes, which often are detected incidentally, do not cause important symptoms or make the athletes discontinue their physical activities. To better understand the significance of these lesions, new imaging studies have been conducted with asymptomatic athletes in several sports, aiming to detect potentially deleterious and disabling abnormalities.
Purpose: To compare the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) lumbar spine findings in a group of asymptomatic adolescent rowers and in a control group of adolescents matched according to age and sex who do not practice any regular physical activity.
Study design: Cohort study (prevalence); Level of evidence, 3.
Methods: Our study evaluated 44 asymptomatic adolescent boys distributed in 2 groups of 22 rowers and 22 control subjects. All the examinations were performed using a 0.35-T open-field MRI unit and evaluated by 2 experienced radiologists blinded to the study groups. Each MRI scan was analyzed for the presence of disc degeneration/desiccation, herniated or bulging disc, pars interarticularis stress reaction, and spondylolysis. The Student t test and the Fisher exact test were used for statistical analyses.
Results: Nine rowers (40.9%) had at least 1 abnormality detected by MRI in the lumbar spine, whereas only 2 participants (9.1%) in the control group had at least 1 MRI abnormality (P = .03). Seven disc changes (31.8%) and 6 pars abnormalities (27.3%) were found in the group of elite rowers. In the control group, 3 disc changes (13.6%) and no pars abnormalities were found in the MR scans. The comparison between groups showed statistically significant differences in stress reaction of the pars articularis.
Conclusion: Disc disease and pars interarticularis stress reaction are prevalent abnormalities of the lumbar spine of high-performance rowers.