The value of combining single photon emission computerised tomography and computerised tomography in the investigation of spondylolysis


The aim of this study was to assess the diagnostic value of combining single photon emission computerised tomography (SPECT) with reverse gantry computerised tomography (rg-CT) in the investigation of spondylolysis. Patient characteristics and imaging results in 118 patients, aged 8–44 years, with low back pain (LBP) were analysed. SPECT showed increased scintigraphic uptake in 80 patients, and spondylolysis was identified on rg-CT in 53. The Cohen Kappa ratio of 0.362 (95% CI: 0.198–0.526) suggests only fair agreement for the result of increased scintigraphic activity with the finding of spondylolysis on rg-CT. We conclude that these investigations give mutually exclusive information, which leads to four diagnostic categories. When there was increased scintigraphic activity on SPECT, 58.8% (95% CI: 48.0–69.5%) of patients had spondylolysis on rg-CT. With rest from provoking activities, these lesions may heal. We interpret the findings of increased scintigraphic activity, but no spondylolysis demonstrated on rg-CT as indicating a bone stress response. These also require rest from provoking activity to prevent a stress fracture developing. In this study, 84.2% (95% CI: 72.67–95.8%) of those patients without increased activity on SPECT had no spondylolysis identified on rg-CT. These patients may need further investigations such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to diagnose pathology, which typically does not involve the posterior elements—but rest from sport may not be so important. There were five patients in our study, without increased scintigraphic activity, but in whom bilateral chronic-appearing (wide separation, smooth sclerotic bone margins) spondylolyses were identified at L5. These all were anticipated from previous plain radiographs or MRI. This group will almost certainly not heal, and if the spondylolyses are the cause of pain these vertebrae will need stabilisation by surgery if physiotherapy fails.

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Correspondence to P. L. Gregory.

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Gregory, P.L., Batt, M.E., Kerslake, R.W. et al. The value of combining single photon emission computerised tomography and computerised tomography in the investigation of spondylolysis. Eur Spine J 13, 503–509 (2004).

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  • Spondylolysis
  • Single photon emission computer tomography
  • Computer assisted tomography
  • Athlete
  • Lumbar vertebrae