K. Lagerstrand, A. Baranto, H. Hebelka

July 2021, Volume 30, Issue 7, pp 2082 - 2089 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-021-06869-2

First Online: 19 May 2021

Different disc characteristics between young elite skiers with diverse training histories revealed with a novel quantitative magnetic resonance imaging method


To evaluate if there are differences in thoraco-lumbar disc characteristics between elite skiers and non-athletic controls as well as between different types of elite skiers, with diverse training histories, using a novel quantitative MRI method.


The thoraco-lumbar spine of 58 elite skiers (age = 18.2 ± 1.1 years, 30 males) and 26 normally active controls (age = 16.4 ± 0.6 years, 9 males) was examined using T2w-MRI. Disc characteristics were compared quantitatively between groups using histogram and regional image analyses to determine delta peak and T2-values in five sub-regions.


A statistical difference in the delta peak value was found between skiers and controls (p <0.001), reflecting higher degree of disc degeneration. The histogram analysis also revealed that the type of training determines where and to what extent the changes occur. Alpine skiers displayed lumbar changes, while mogul skiers displayed changes also in the thoracic spine. Alpine skiers with diverse training dose differed in delta peak value (p = 0.005), where skiers with highest training dose displayed less changes. Regional T2-value differences were found in skiers with divergent training histories (p <0.05), reflecting differences in disc degeneration patterns, foremost within the dorsal annulus.


Differences in quantitative disc characteristics were found not only between elite skiers and non-athletic controls but also between subgroups of elite skiers with diverse training histories. The differences in the disc measures, reflecting tissue degradation, are likely related to type and intensity of the physical training. Future studies are encouraged to explore the relation between disc functionality, training history and pain to establish adequate prevention and rehabilitation programs.

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