MR reveals pediatric spine degeneration

December 1, 2003

MR imaging of children can reveal risk factors for lower back pain before puberty, according to Scottish researchers.

 

MR imaging of children can reveal risk factors for lower back pain before puberty, according to Scottish researchers.

Degenerative changes in the spine were seen much earlier than expected, said lead author Dr. Francis W. Smith, a consultant radiologist and sports medicine physician at Woodend Hospital in Aberdeen, Scotland.

"This study revises our thoughts on when we should begin preventative back care. Proactive steps should begin early in life, even before puberty."

The study of 154 10-year-old children found that 8% had abnormalities such as bulging or tearing in at least one intervertebral disc. None of the children had complained of back or leg pain.

The researchers looked at the effects of spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal cord, an inherited condition.

"There is no history of poor nutrition, obesity, or other known disease in these children," Smith said. "We suspect there may be genetic causes, although unrecognized trauma in sports or at play could also be a cause.

To ward off future back pain, Smith recommends that children become more active and spend less time slumped in front of a computer. He also cautions that a child's backpack should weigh no more than 10% to 15% of his or her weight.

Smith does not recommend early imaging programs to screen all children, as many people with degenerative discs will remain totally asymptomatic.