The MRI appearances of early vertebral osteomyelitis and discitis

Clin Radiol. 2010 Dec;65(12):974-81. doi: 10.1016/j.crad.2010.03.015. Epub 2010 Jul 7.


Aim: To describe the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) appearances in patients with a clinical history suggestive of vertebral osteomyelitis and discitis who underwent MRI very early in their clinical course.

Materials and methods: A retrospective review of the database of spinal infections from a spinal microbiological liaison team was performed over a 2 year period to identify cases with clinical features suggestive of spinal infection and an MRI that did not show features typical of vertebral osteomyelitis and discitis. All patients had positive microbiology and a follow up MRI showing typical features of spinal infection.

Results: In four cases the features typical of spinal infection were not evident at the initial MRI. In three cases there was very subtle endplate oedema associated with disc degeneration, which was interpreted as Modic type I degenerative endplate change. Intravenous antibiotic therapy was continued prior to repeat MRI examinations. The mean time to the repeat examination was 17 days with a range of 8-22 days. The second examinations clearly demonstrated vertebral osteomyelitis and discitis.

Conclusion: Although MRI is the imaging method of choice for vertebral osteomyelitis and discitis in the early stages, it may show subtle, non-specific endplate subchondral changes; a repeat examination may be required to show the typical features.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage
  • Discitis / diagnosis*
  • Discitis / drug therapy
  • Discitis / microbiology
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteomyelitis / diagnosis*
  • Osteomyelitis / drug therapy
  • Osteomyelitis / microbiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Diseases / drug therapy
  • Spinal Diseases / microbiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents