The spine undergoes natural shape and fluid changes over the course of 24 hours. Often, back pain symptoms vary as well over the day and night cycle. But the small changes and the links to pain have not been researched thoroughly. Here, a group of researchers from Duke University looked at the reliability of measuring intervertebral disc shape with recumbent MRI. This large avascular structure is linked to back pain and has significant diurnal variation in the human body. It would seem wise to further understand its diurnal disc shape changes.
Some people feel pain in the mornings and others feel things more so at the end of the day. Yet others feel pain more so when they lie down.
The intervertebral disc hydraulically keeps vertebrae separated. Water is squeezed out throughout the day as the human frame is vertical, and this water gets resorbed when an individual lays down. During the process, the disc changes shape and height. And when pain is involved, these shape and height changes can bear increased ( or decreased ) physical stress on structures that may be inflammatory. These can include annular fissures, disc bulges, disc herniations, disc protrusions, encroaching nerve or rootlets of nerves and the shingling of facet joints, just to name a few.
The purpose of this study was to determine intra and inter-rater reliability using MRI to measure diurnal changes of the intervertebral discs.
They did find excellent reliability, and interestingly they saw the most significant change in the posterior annulus region of L5-1. The diurnal variations were in line with what others had seen in previous work. Boos at al. in 1996 saw a 1-2mm change over the course of an 8h workday while Hutton et al. in 2003 saw a volume change of 1-2 cm3.
This research is essential if we are to fully understand back pain origins. Often pain syndromes related to the lower back present with symptoms that are diurnal. At Dynamic Disc Designs, we have models to help explain these subtle but significant changes to the discs, assisting patients to understand the onset of their pains and the diurnal disc shape and the natural variations.