Trying to Visualize Low Back PainLow back pain is like the common cold. Lots of people have it, but it is almost impossible to cure. Doctors don't fully understand the causes of low back pain, and they aren't always able to diagnose the exact problem.
These authors tried to shed some light on the mystery of low back pain. They compared spine MRIs with low back pain history in 115 pairs of male identical twins. The men ranged in age from 35 to 69. Using twins helped the authors control for genetic factors and family influences. The authors also took into account the men's jobs and lifestyles and whether or not they smoked.
The authors found only two MRI variables that seemed related to problems with low back pain. Both variables showed up more often in men who reported significant low back pain. The first was a loss of disc height. The disc is the soft cushion that sits between each of the spine bones. An MRI can show if a disc becomes thin and narrow.
The second finding on MRI was tears in the annulus (the outer portion of the disc). Annular tears showed up even more often in men who had done heavy lifting in the past year.
However, neither MRI finding related very well with low back pain. The authors conclude that these MRI findings are of little use to doctors who are trying to understand the riddle of their patients' low back pain.
Tapio Videman, MD, PhD, et al. Associations Between Back Pain History and Lumbar MRI Findings. In Spine. March 15, 2003. Vol. 28. No. 6. Pp. 582-588.
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