John T. Martin, Alexander B. Oldweiler, Andrzej S. Kosinski, Charles E. Spritzer, Brian J. Soher, Melissa M. Erickson, Adam P. Goode, Louis E. DeFrate

January 2022, pp 1 - 9 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-021-07097-4

First Online: 24 January 2022


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is routinely used to evaluate spine pathology; however, standard imaging findings weakly correlate to low back pain. Abnormal disc mechanical function is implicated as a cause of back pain but is not assessed using standard clinical MRI. Our objective was to utilize our established MRI protocol for measuring disc function to quantify disc mechanical function in a healthy cohort.


We recruited young, asymptomatic volunteers (6 male/6 female; age 18–30 years; BMI < 30) and used MRI to determine how diurnal deformations in disc height, volume, and perimeter were affected by spinal level, disc region, MRI biomarkers of disc health (T2, T1rho), and Pfirrmann grade.


Lumbar discs deformed by a mean of −6.1% (95% CI: −7.6%, −4.7%) to −8.0% (CI: −10.6%, −5.4%) in height and −5.4% (CI: −7.6%, −3.3%) to −8.5% (CI: −11.0%, −6.0%) in volume from AM to PM across spinal levels. Regional deformations were more uniform in cranial lumbar levels and concentrated posteriorly in the caudal levels, reaching a maximum of 13.1% at L5–S1 (CI:−16.1%, −10.2%). T2 and T1rho relaxation times were greatest in the nucleus and varied circumferentially within the annulus. T2 relaxation times were greatest at the most cranial spinal levels and decreased caudally. In this young healthy cohort, we identified a weak association between nucleus T2 and the diurnal change in the perimeter.


Spinal level is a key factor in determining regional disc deformations. Interestingly, deformations were concentrated in the posterior regions of caudal discs where disc herniation is most prevalent.

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