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Skeletal Radiol. 2004 Apr;33(4):216-22. Epub 2004 Feb 26.

Thoracic spine disc-related abnormalities: longitudinal MR imaging assessment.

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TJUH Radiology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.



To describe and characterize the temporal changes in disc-related disorders of the thoracic spine using MR imaging.


A retrospective longitudinal cohort study was carried out of 40 patients with two sequential thoracic spine MR images at variable intervals. The images were assessed for baseline presence of, new incidence of and changes in disc herniation, degenerative disc disease, endplate marrow signal alteration and Schmorl nodes.


The range of follow-up was 4-149 weeks. Baseline presence was: disc herniation, 10% (49/480); degenerative disc disease, 14% (66/480); endplate marrow signal alteration, 2.3% (11/480); Schmorl nodes 9.6% (46/480). Most pre-existing lesions tended to remain unchanged. Herniations showed the most change, tending to improve in 27%. New incidence was: disc herniation, 1.5% (7/480), degenerative disc disease, 2% (10/480); endplate marrow signal alteration, 1.6% (8/480); Schmorl nodes, 2.1% (10/480). Disc degeneration was first visible at an 11-week interval and once established almost never changed over many weeks to months. Endplate signal alterations (Modic changes) were uncommon. Schmorl nodes show no change from baseline for up to 2 1/2 years. All findings predominated in the lower intervertebral levels from T6 to T10.


The most prevalent thoracic spine disc-related findings are degeneration and herniation. Disc herniations predominate in the lower segments and are a dynamic phenomenon. Disc degeneration can be rapidly evolving but tends to remain unchanged after occurrence. Endplate marrow signal changes were an uncommon manifestation of thoracic disc disease. Schmorl nodes showed the least change over time.

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