Injuries to the lower back in elite fast bowlers: acute stress changes on MRI predict stress fracture

C A Ranson, A F Burnett, R W Kerslake
Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. British Volume 2010, 92 (12): 1664-8
In our study, the aims were to describe the changes in the appearance of the lumbar spine on MRI in elite fast bowlers during a follow-up period of one year, and to determine whether these could be used to predict the presence of a stress fracture of the posterior elements. We recruited 28 elite fast bowlers with a mean age of 19 years (16 to 24) who were training and playing competitively at the start of the study. They underwent baseline MRI (season 1) and further scanning (season 2) after one year to assess the appearance of the lumbar intervertebral discs and posterior bony elements. The incidence of low back pain and the amount of playing and training time lost were also recorded. In total, 15 of the 28 participants (53.6%) showed signs of acute bone stress on either the season 1 or season 2 MR scans and there was a strong correlation between these findings and the later development of a stress fracture (p < 0.001). The prevalence of intervertebral disc degeneration was relatively low. There was no relationship between disc degeneration on the season 1 MR scans and subsequent stress fracture. Regular lumbar MR scans of asymptomatic elite fast bowlers may be of value in detecting early changes of bone stress and may allow prompt intervention aimed at preventing a stress fracture and avoiding prolonged absence from cricket.

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