The Prevalence of Abnormalities in the Pediatric Spine on MRI: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2020 Sep 15;45(18):E1185-E1196. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0000000000003527.


Study design: Systematic review and meta-analysis.

Objective: The aim of this study was to provide an overview of the prevalence of reported musculoskeletal abnormalities on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the pediatric spine.

Summary of background data: Back pain is a common complaint and significant health issue, already in children. Several studies have investigated musculoskeletal abnormalities of the pediatric spine as possible cause of low back pain (LBP). However, it is not clear which abnormalities are the most prevalent among children.

Methods: A systematic literature search on the prevalence of musculoskeletal spinal abnormalities on MRI in children was conducted in the Embase, Medline Ovid, and Cochrane CENTRAL databases. Risk of bias (RoB) was assessed using a checklist based on the Downs and Black checklist. General information on study and patient characteristics and the prevalence of spinal abnormalities were extracted from the studies. Prevalence data were presented in three subgroups: nonathletes without LBP, participants with LBP, and athletes. Prevalence data of the most reported abnormalities were pooled using random-effects proportion meta-analysis. The study protocol was prospectively registered in PROSPERO (CRD42017080543).

Results: The search resulted in 16,783 articles, of which 31 articles (2373 participants) were included in this systematic review. Two-thirds of the studies had a low RoB. The pooled prevalence in nonathletes without LBP, participants with LBP, and athletes without LBP was respectively 22%, 44%, and 22% for disc degeneration, 1%, 38%, and 13% for herniated discs, 5%, 22%, and 11% for endplate changes, and 0%, 30%, and 6% for pars fractures.

Conclusion: Disc degeneration, herniated discs, endplate changes, and spondylolysis are the most reported spinal abnormalities on MRI in children in literature. Spinal abnormalities seen in adults are already prevalent in children with LBP, with the highest prevalence for disc degeneration and herniated discs.

Level of evidence: 2.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Databases, Factual / trends
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / diagnostic imaging
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / epidemiology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / diagnostic imaging
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / epidemiology
  • Low Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / trends*
  • Male
  • Musculoskeletal Abnormalities / diagnostic imaging*
  • Musculoskeletal Abnormalities / epidemiology*
  • Pediatrics / trends*
  • Prevalence
  • Spinal Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Spinal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Spondylolysis / diagnostic imaging
  • Spondylolysis / epidemiology

Supplementary concepts

  • Intervertebral disc disease