Louise Fawcett, Steven James, Rajesh Botchu, James Martin, Nicola R. Heneghan, Alison Rushton

February 2022, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 225 - 232 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-021-06997-9

First Online: 06 October 2021

The influence of spinal position on imaging findings: an observational study of thoracolumbar spine upright MRI in elite gymnasts


To investigate whether upright magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has a role in defining thoracolumbar spine pathology in elite gymnastics.


A prospective cross-sectional observational study of National Senior and Junior Artistic gymnasts in three MRI positions (standard supine, upright flexed and extended positions). Two specialist musculoskeletal radiologists independently analysed images with neutral as a baseline with the effects of flexion and extension reported in line with Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) statement.


Forty (18 males) gymnasts aged 13–24 years with a mean (SD) of 32 (5.3) training hours per week consented with 75% showing MRI abnormalities. Degenerative disc disease (DDD) was evident in 55% participants with vertebral end plate (VEP) changes in 42.5%. Spondylolysis was present in 40% with an additional 17% showing chronic bilateral complete L5 pars defects. 23% participants demonstrated different MRI findings in upright flexion compared to neutral.


Findings suggest a high levels of MRI abnormalities in elite gymnastics including altered disc morphology and posterior element abnormalities. High prevalence of T11/12 DDD and VEP changes reflects the thoracolumbar junction being a transition zone. Upright MRI and varying spine position offer promise for enhanced visualisation of posterior element abnormalities.

Read Full Article