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Nucleus pulposus deformation in response to lumbar spine lateral flexion: an in vivo MRI investigation


Whilst there are numerous studies examining aspects of sagittal plane motion in the lumbar spine, few consider coronal plane range of motion and there are no in vivo reports of nucleus pulposus (NP) displacement in lateral flexion. This study quantified in vivo NP deformation in response to side flexion in healthy volunteers. Concomitant lateral flexion and axial rotation range were also examined to evaluate the direction and extent of NP deformation. Axial T2- and coronal T1-weighted magnetic resonance images (MRI) were obtained from 21 subjects (mean age, 24.8 years) from L1 to S1 in the neutral and left laterally flexed position. Images were evaluated for intersegmental ranges of lateral flexion and axial rotation. A novel methodology derived linear pixel samples across the width of the disc from T2 images, from which the magnitude and direction of displacement of the NP was determined. This profiling technique represented the relative hydration pattern within the disc. The NP was displaced away from the direction of lateral flexion in 95/105 discs (p < 0.001). The extent of NP displacement was associated strongly with lateral flexion at L2–3 (p < 0.01). The greatest range of lateral flexion occurred at L2–3, L3–4 and L4–5. Small intersegmental ranges of axial rotation occurred at all levels, but were not associated with NP displacement. The direction of NP deformation was highly predictable in laterally flexed healthy lumbar spines; however, the magnitude of displacement was not consistent with the degree of intersegmental lateral flexion or rotation.

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The authors acknowledge Shouta Kaneko, OT, for technical assistance, Dr Yoshikazu Ikemoto, MD, PhD and Dr Yuki Sasaki, MD, orthopaedic surgeons, for their assistance in screening the volunteers and classifying their IVD health state.

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Correspondence to Peter J. Fazey.

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Fazey, P.J., Takasaki, H. & Singer, K.P. Nucleus pulposus deformation in response to lumbar spine lateral flexion: an in vivo MRI investigation. Eur Spine J 19, 1115–1120 (2010).

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