Is There an Association Between Pain and Magnetic Resonance Imaging Parameters in Patients With Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2016 Sep;41(17):E1053-E1062. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0000000000001544.


Study design: A prospective multicenter cohort study.

Objective: The aim of this study was to identify an association between pain and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) parameters in patients with lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS).

Summary of background data: At present, the relationship between abnormal MRI findings and pain in patients with LSS is still unclear.

Methods: First, we conducted a systematic literature search. We identified relationships of relevant MRI parameters and pain in patients with LSS. Second, we addressed the study question with a thorough descriptive and graphical analysis to establish a relationship between MRI parameters and pain using data of the LSS outcome study (LSOS).

Results: In the systematic review including four papers about the associations between radiological findings in the MRI and pain, the authors of two articles reported no association and two of them did. Of the latters, only one study found a moderate correlation between leg pain measured by Visual Analog Scale (VAS) and the degree of stenosis assessed by spine surgeons. In the data of the LSOS study, we could not identify a relevant association between any of the MRI parameters and buttock, leg, and back pain, quantified by the Spinal Stenosis Measure (SSM) and the Numeric Rating Scale (NRS). Even by restricting the analysis to the level of the lumbar spine with the most prominent radiological "stenosis," no relevant association could be shown.

Conclusion: Despite a thorough analysis of the data, we were not able to prove any correlation between radiological findings (MRI) and the severity of pain. There is a need for innovative "methods/techniques" to learn more about the causal relationship between radiological findings and the patients' pain-related complaints.

Level of evidence: 2.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Back Pain / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiopathology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / adverse effects*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Pain Measurement
  • Prospective Studies
  • Spinal Stenosis / complications*
  • Spinal Stenosis / surgery*