Paul W. Hodges, Jeannie F. Bailey, Maryse Fortin, Michele C. Battié

December 2021, Volume 30, Issue 12, pp 3428 - 3441 Review Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-021-06990-2

First Online: 20 September 2021

Paraspinal muscle imaging measurements for common spinal disorders: review and consensus-based recommendations from the ISSLS degenerative spinal phenotypes group


Paraspinal muscle imaging is of growing interest related to improved phenotyping, prognosis, and treatment of common spinal disorders. We reviewed issues related to paraspinal muscle imaging measurement that contribute to inconsistent findings between studies and impede understanding.


Three key contributors to inconsistencies among studies of paraspinal muscle imaging measurements were reviewed: failure to consider possible mechanisms underlying changes in paraspinal muscles, lack of control of confounding factors, and variations in spinal muscle imaging modalities and measurement protocols. Recommendations are provided to address these issues to improve the quality and coherence of future research.


Possible pathophysiological responses of paraspinal muscle to various common spinal disorders in acute or chronic phases are often overlooked, yet have important implications for the timing, distribution, and nature of changes in paraspinal muscle. These considerations, as well as adjustment for possible confounding factors, such as sex, age, and physical activity must be considered when planning and interpreting paraspinal muscle measurements in studies of spinal conditions. Adoption of standardised imaging measurement protocols for paraspinal muscle morphology and composition, considering the strengths and limitations of various imaging modalities, is critically important to interpretation and synthesis of research.


Study designs that consider physiological and pathophysiological responses of muscle, adjust for possible confounding factors, and use common, standardised measures are needed to advance knowledge of the determinants of variations or changes in paraspinal muscle and their influence on spinal health.

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