Modic vertebral body changes: the natural history as assessed by consecutive magnetic resonance imaging

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2011 Dec 15;36(26):2304-7. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e31821604b6.


Study design: Changes in the vertebral body adjacent to the end plate may be associated with degenerative disc disease. These changes can be separated on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and have been described by Modic. It is assumed that these end plate changes represent a process that is progressive.

Objective: We have retrospectively reviewed patients who had sequential MRI of the lumbar spine to investigate the natural history of Modic vertebral body MRI changes.

Summary of background data: Of 36 end plates with Modic type 1 changes in a first MRI, 18 remained the same, 13 progressed to Modic type 2 change, 3 progressed to Modic type 3 changes, and 2 end plates were found to be normal (type 0) on a subsequent MRI. Of the 22 end plates initially reported as Modic type 2 in a first MRI, 18 remained unchanged, none converted to Modic type 3, and 4 converted from Modic type 2 to Modic type 1 on a subsequent MRI.

Methods: Magnetic resonance (MR) images of the lumbar spine of 49 subjects were assessed by a senior spinal surgeon. The lumbar vertebral body adjacent to the end plate was classified by using the Modic system from L1 to S1 inclusive.

Results: Of the 36 end plates with Modic 1 changes in the first data set, 18 remained the same; 13 progressed to Modic 2; 3 progressed to Modic 3 changes, and, interestingly, 2 end plates were found to be normal on the repeat scan. Of the 22 end plates initially reported as Modic 2, 18 remained unchanged; none converted to Modic 3 and 4 converted back from Modic 2 to Modic 1.

Conclusion: Our findings reflect the dynamic nature of pathological changes in the spine and have demonstrated that Modic changes are reversible. They also raise further doubt that these MRI changes should be used as an indicator of clinical symptoms or of surgical outcome.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / radiation effects*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / diagnosis
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Radiography
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spinal Diseases / classification
  • Spinal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Time Factors