Is the presence of modic changes associated with the outcomes of different treatments? A systematic critical review

Rikke K Jensen, Charlotte Leboeuf-Yde
BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2011 August 10, 12: 183

BACKGROUND: Modic changes (MCs) have been identified as a diagnostic subgroup associated with low back pain (LBP). The aetiology of MCs is still unknown and there is no effective treatment available. If MCs constitute a specific subgroup of LBP, it seems reasonable to expect different effects from different treatments. The objective of this systematic critical literature review was therefore to investigate if there is evidence in the literature that the presence of MCs at baseline is associated with a favourable outcome depending on the treatment provided for LBP.

METHODS: The databases MEDLINE and EMBASE were searched for relevant articles from 1984 to December 2010. A checklist including items related to the research questions and quality of the articles was used for data extraction and quality assessment. Of the 1650 articles found, five (six studies) were included in this review but because the studies were so heterogeneous, the results have been reported separately for each study.

RESULTS: The treatments studied were: lumbar epidural steroid injections (n = 1), lumbar intradiscal steroid injections (n = 2), lumbar disc replacement (n = 1), fusion surgery (n = 1) and exercise therapy (n = 1). One of the two studies investigating treatment with intradiscal steroid injections and the study investigating fusion surgery reported that MCs were positively associated with the outcomes of pain and disability. The other study on lumbar intradiscal steroid injections and the study on lumbar epidural steroid injections reported mixed results, whereas the study on lumbar disc replacement and the study on exercise therapy reported that MCs were not associated with the outcomes of pain and disability.

CONCLUSIONS: The available studies on the topic were too few and too heterogeneous to reach a definitive conclusion and it is therefore still unclear if MCs may be of clinical importance when guiding or prescribing the 'right' treatment for a patient with LBP.

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