Prevalence and clinical relevance of underlying pathological conditions in painful adolescent idiopathic scoliosis: a MRI-based study

Spine Deform. 2020 Aug;8(4):663-668. doi: 10.1007/s43390-020-00065-w. Epub 2020 Feb 18.


Study design: Cross-sectional comparative study.

Objectives: Evaluate prevalence and clinical relevance of an underlying pathology in painful adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) patients after a non-diagnostic history, physical examination and spinal X-ray using Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI) as diagnostic tool. Discrepancies regarding indications of routine MRI screening in painful AIS patients are multifactorial. Few studies have investigated relationship and practical importance of painful AIS with an underlying pathology by MRI.

Method: A total of 152-consecutive AIS patients complaining of back pain during a 36-month period were enrolled. All patients underwent whole-spine MRI after a non-diagnostic history, physical examination and spinal X-ray. Underlying pathologies were reported as neural and non-neural axis abnormalities based on MRI reports. Variables such as sex, age, constant or intermittent pain, night pain, back pain location (thoracic or lumbar pain), Cobb-angle and follow-up were evaluated as clinical markers to predict presence of underlying MRI pathologies.

Results: The presence of an underlying pathology was found by MRI in 54 painful AIS patients (35.5%). Isolated syringomyelia was the only neural axis abnormality found in 6 patients (3.9%). Non-neural axis abnormalities (31.6%) were composed by: 32 herniated nucleus pulposus, 5 vertebral disc desiccation, 4 ovarian cysts, 3 renal cysts, 2 sacral cysts, and 2 vertebral hemangiomas. There was no association with gender, age of presentation, initial coronal Cobb angle and follow up; with presence of an underlying pathology. Lumbar pain location was identified as an adequate clinical marker that correlated with presence of an underlying pathology (p = 0.01).

Conclusions: Prevalence of underlying pathologies diagnosed by MRI in painful AIS was found high (35.5%), but it's clinical relevance and implication are debatable. The use of MRI did not affect orthopedic management of painful AIS patients who showed an underlying pathology. A thorough evaluation must be performed by clinicians; and discussed with patients and family prior to undergo further imaging management.

Level of evidence: Level III.

Keywords: Back pain; Clinical marker; Idiopathic scoliosis.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Axis, Cervical Vertebra / abnormalities
  • Back Pain / etiology*
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Hemangioma / complications
  • Hemangioma / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / complications
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / epidemiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Ovarian Cysts / complications
  • Ovarian Cysts / enzymology
  • Prevalence
  • Scoliosis / complications*
  • Scoliosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Neoplasms / complications
  • Spinal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Spine / diagnostic imaging*
  • Syringomyelia / complications
  • Syringomyelia / diagnostic imaging
  • Syringomyelia / epidemiology

Supplementary concepts

  • Syringomyelia, Isolated