Alessandra Splendiani, Federico Bruno, Claudia Marsecano, Francesco Arrigoni, Ernesto Di Cesare, Antonio Barile, Carlo Masciocchi

May 2019, Volume 28, Issue 5, pp 983 - 992 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-019-05974-7

First Online: 15 April 2019

Modic I changes size increase from supine to standing MRI correlates with increase in pain intensity in standing position: uncovering the "biomechanical stress" and "active discopathy" theories in low back pain


To evaluate the relationship between degenerative disc, endplate Modic changes (MC) type I, and pain during upright weight-bearing MRI scan of the lumbar spine in a cohort of patients with non-specific low back pain.

Materials and methods

We evaluated 38 patients with non-specific low back pain and MRI evidence of Modic I vertebral changes. The patients were evaluated in a standard and upright weight-bearing position using a dedicated MR unit. The extent of endplate MC type I, intervertebral disc height at the involved level, and degree of degeneration in the same intervertebral disc were compared. Pain was assessed through the VAS questionnaire.


In the upright position, the area of Modic I changes increased in 26 patients (68.4%, p ≤ 0.001) compared to the supine position. In the upright position, reduction in the disc height was found in 35 patients (92.1%). Correlation analysis showed moderate negative correlation (ρ = − 0.45) between intervertebral disc height and increase in the area of Modic I changes, and weak positive correlation (ρ = 0.12) between Pfirrmann grade and increase in the area of Modic I changes. At clinical evaluation, 30 patients (78.9%) reported worsening of low back pain standing in the upright position. Increase in VAS values on the upright position correlated significantly (ρ = 0.34) with an increase in the area of Modic I changes.


Our results showed the modifications of Modic I changes under loading, with MRI evidence of increased MC area extent in the upright position and correlation between Modic changes extension increase and increase in pain in the standing position. Weight-bearing MRI scans represent a valuable complement to standard sequences since they provide the radiologist with additional diagnostic information about low back pain.

Graphical abstract

These slides can be retrieved from Electronic Supplementary Material.[Figure not available: see fulltext.]

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