Study design: Asymptomatic subjects and chronic head/neck pain sufferers were studied with high-field magnetic resonance imaging and cervical discography to compare and correlate both tests.
Objectives: To assess the accuracy of magnetic resonance imaging and discography in identifying the source(s) of cervical discogenic pain.
Summary of background data: Previous retrospective studies describe a generally poor correlation between magnetic resonance imaging and provocative discography in the cervical spine.
Methods: Ten lifelong asymptomatic subjects and 10 nonlitigious chronic neck/head pain patients underwent discography at C3-C4 through C6-C7 after magnetic resonance imaging. Disc morphology and provoked responses were recorded at each level studied.
Results: Of 20 normal discs by magnetic resonance from the asymptomatic volunteers, 17 proved to have painless anular tears discographically. The average response per disc (N = 40) for this group was 2.42, compared to 5.2 (N = 40) for the neck pain group. In the pain patients, 11 discs appeared normal at magnetic resonance imaging, whereas 10 of these proved to have anular tears discographically. Two of these 10 proved concordantly painful with intensity ratings of at least 7/10. Discographically normal discs (N = 8) were never painful (both groups), whereas intensely painful discs all exhibited tears of both the inner and outer aspects of the anulus.
Conclusions: Significant cervical disc anular tears often escape magnetic resonance imaging detection, and magnetic resonance imaging cannot reliably identify the source(s) of cervical discogenic pain.