Schmorl Node-A Cause of Acute Thoracic Pain: A Case Report and Pathophysiological Mechanism

Int J Spine Surg. 2020 Jun 30;14(3):441-446. doi: 10.14444/7058. eCollection 2020 Jun.


Purpose: We report a case of a patient with an acute symptomatic Schmorl node (SN) that spontaneously resolved with characteristic imaging findings. The extensive hematological investigations also allow some insight as to the likely pathophysiology of the painful lesion.

Methods: Case report of an acute symptomatic SN.

Results: A fit and athletic 44-year-old female participant in a competitive paddling event developed atypical thoracic pain and was admitted for further investigation. Normal blood results included complete blood cell count, clotting, and D-dimer. Creatine phosphokinase was 63 U/L (reference < 167 U/L) and troponin I levels were not raised. Her only hematological abnormality was an elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) at 60.2 mg/L (reference < 5 mg/L). Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan showed signal hyperintensity involving T7 vertebral body, surrounding an enlarged SN. Patient was given oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, opioid analgesia, and gradually mobilized. After 3 days, the pain had sufficiently subsided and CRP was 17.8 mg/L. Follow-up MRI scan showed some reduction in the T2 hyperintensity and size of the intraosseous herniation. Patient gradually returned to full activities and had no recurrence of symptoms. MRI scan 8 months after the initial scan showed almost complete resolution of the T2 hyperintensity and pan-vertebral marrow edema.

Conclusion: Symptomatic SN should be part of the differential diagnosis of unexplained thoracolumbar pain. Modality of choice for diagnosis would be MRI. Once diagnosed, several treatment options are available with the most likely being spontaneous resolution of symptoms and bone healing within a few months. The conservative approach is recommended when the symptoms can be medically well controlled.

Keywords: Schmorl node; thoracic pain.