Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Lumbar Spine: Recommendations for Acquisition and Image Evaluation from the BACPAC Spine Imaging Working Group

Pain Med. 2023 Aug 4;24(Suppl 1):S81-S94. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnac130.


Management of patients suffering from low back pain (LBP) is challenging and requires development of diagnostic techniques to identify specific patient subgroups and phenotypes in order to customize treatment and predict clinical outcome. The Back Pain Consortium (BACPAC) Research Program Spine Imaging Working Group has developed standard operating procedures (SOPs) for spinal imaging protocols to be used in all BACPAC studies. These SOPs include procedures to conduct spinal imaging assessments with guidelines for standardizing the collection, reading/grading (using structured reporting with semi-quantitative evaluation using ordinal rating scales), and storage of images. This article presents the approach to image acquisition and evaluation recommended by the BACPAC Spine Imaging Working Group. While the approach is specific to BACPAC studies, it is general enough to be applied at other centers performing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) acquisitions in patients with LBP. The herein presented SOPs are meant to improve understanding of pain mechanisms and facilitate patient phenotyping by codifying MRI-based methods that provide standardized, non-invasive assessments of spinal pathologies. Finally, these recommended procedures may facilitate the integration of better harmonized MRI data of the lumbar spine across studies and sites within and outside of BACPAC studies.

Keywords: Intervertebral Disc Degeneration; Low Back Pain; Magnetic Resonance Imaging; Paraspinal Musculature; Vertebral Endplate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration*
  • Low Back Pain* / diagnostic imaging
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology
  • Lumbosacral Region
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods