Modic Change: An Emerging Complication in the Aging Population

Clin Spine Surg. 2022 Feb 1;35(1):12-17. doi: 10.1097/BSD.0000000000001168.


Study design: This was a literature review.

Objective: The objective of this study was to review the pathogenesis, prevalence, clinical associations, diagnostic modalities, and treatment options for patients with lower back pain (LBP) associated with Modic change (MC).

Summary of background data: Vertebral body endplates are located between the intervertebral disk and adjacent vertebral body. Despite their crucial roles in nutrition and biomechanical stability, vertebral endplates are extremely susceptible to mechanical failure. Studies examining the events leading to disk degeneration have shown that failure often begins at the endplates. Endplate degeneration with subchondral bone marrow changes were originally noticed on magnetic resonance imaging. These magnetic resonance imaging signal changes were classified as MC.

Methods: A literature review was conducted on the history, etiology, risk factors, diagnostic modalities, and treatment of LBP with MC.

Results: Type 1 MC refers to the presence of increased vascularization and bone marrow edema within the vertebral body. Type 2 MC involves fatty marrow replacement within the vertebral body. Type 3 MC reflects subchondral bone sclerosis. Despite the original classification, research has supported the notion that MCs possess a transitional nature. Furthermore, type 1 MCs have been strongly associated with inflammation and severe LBP, while types 2 and 3 tend to be more stable and demonstrate less refractory pain. With a strong association to LBP, understanding the etiology of MC is crucial to optimal treatment planning. Various etiologic theories have been proposed including autoimmunity, mechanics, infection, and genetic factors.

Conclusions: With the aging nature of the population, MC has emerged as an extremely prevalent issue. Research into the pathogenesis of MC is important for planning preventative and therapeutic strategies. Such strategies may include rehabilitation, surgical fixation, stabilization, steroid or cement injection, or antibiotics. Improved diagnostic methods in clinical practice are thus critical to properly identify patients suffering from MC, plan early intervention, and hasten return to functioning.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration* / complications
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration* / diagnostic imaging
  • Intervertebral Disc* / pathology
  • Low Back Pain* / etiology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods