Disc Degeneration and Associated Abnormalities of the Spine in Elite Gymnasts: A Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study


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Abstract

The thoracolumbar spine was examined by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and the history of back pain was analyzed in 24 male elite gymnasts (age range, 19–29 years) and in 16 male nonathietes (age range, 23–36 years). Disc degeneration, defined as reduced disc signal intensity, was significantly more common in athletes (75%) than in nonathletes (31%). The gymnasts also had a higher incidence of other abnormalities of the thoracolumbar spine, and there was a significant correlation between reduced disc signal intensity and the other abnormalities among the gymnasts. There were also significant correlations between back pain and reduced disc signal intensity and abnormal vertebral configuration when the gymnasts and the nonathletes were pooled. Male elite gymnasts run a high risk of developing severe abnormalities of the thoracolumbar spine, and they often have a history of back pain.

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