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MRI signal changes of the pedicle as an indicator for early diagnosis of spondylolysis in children and adolescents: a clinical and biomechanical study.

Spine 2006 January 16
STUDY DESIGN: Clinical review of pediatric patients with lumbar spondylolysis and biomechanical analysis using finite-element lumbar spine model.

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the usefulness of the signal changes observed on MR images of the pedicle for the early diagnosis of spondylolysis, and to investigate the pathomechanism of the signal changes based on the stresses in pedicles, as predicted using finite-element analyses. Furthermore, to evaluate the usefulness of the signal change to predict the bony healing following conservative treatment.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Since early-stage spondylolysis can achieve osseous healing conservatively, it is important to diagnose this disorder as early as possible. Presently, there is no well-established, noninvasive, and reliable diagnostic tool for the early diagnosis.

METHODS: Thirty-seven pediatric patients with spondylolysis were included. Sixty-eight defects were examined and their stages as revealed on CT scans were recorded. High signal changes (HSC) of the pedicles on axial T2-weighted MRI were compared with the CT-based stages of the defect. Among them, 16 patients, including 15 boys and 1 girl, were treated conservatively for at least a 3-month period. Bony healing of the fracture site was evaluated on CT, and the results were compared between two groups with or without HSC at the initial consultation. Using a three-dimensional nonlinear finite-element model of the L3-L5 segment, stress distributions in the pars and pedicle regions were analyzed in response to 400 N compression and 10.6 Nm moment.

RESULTS: Based on CTs, 68 pars defects were classified as follows: 8 very early, 24 late-early, 16 progressive, and 20 terminal stages. All defects in very early and late-early stages (100%) showed HSC on T2-weighted MRI at the ipsilateral pedicle. Among 16 progressive stages, eight (50%) showed HSC, while no defects of the terminal stage (0%) were found to have HSC. In total, 29 pars defects were treated conservatively out of 16 patients. In 19 of the HSC positive defects, 15 (79%) showed bony healing after the conservative treatment, whereas none of the 10 HSC negative defects (0%) showed any healing. The results were statistically significant at P < 0.05 (chi). Stress results from the finite-element model indicated that pars interarticularis showed the highest value in all loading modes, and the pedicle showed the second highest.

CONCLUSIONS: The correlation between the high stresses in the pedicle and the corresponding HSC suggest that signal changes in MRI could be used as an indicator for early diagnosis of spondylolysis. The HSC of the pedicle provided useful information to diagnose early stage spondylolysis. Furthermore, the HSC may be a good indicator as to whether a bony union will result from conservative treatment.

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