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Low occurrence of MRI spinal changes in elite climbing athletes; a cross-sectional study

BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2023 Mar 9;15(1):29. doi: 10.1186/s13102-023-00637-z.


OBJECTIVES: To examine the occurrence of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) changes in the thoracolumbar spine among elite climbing athletes.

METHODS: All climbers of the Swedish national sport climbing team (n = 8), and individuals having trained for selection to the national team (n = 11), were prospectively included. A control group, matched in age and sex, were recruited. All participants underwent a thoracolumbar MRI (1.5 T, T1- and T2-weighted imaging), evaluated according to Pfirrmann classification, modified Endplate defect score, Modic changes, apophyseal injuries and spondylolisthesis. Pfirrmann ≥ 3, Endplate defect score ≥ 2 and Modic ≥ 1 was defined as degenerative findings.

RESULTS: Fifteen individuals, 8 women, participated in both the climbing group (mean age 23.1, SD 3.2 years) and the control group respectively (mean age 24.3, SD 1.5 years). In the climbing group, 6.1% of the thoracic and 10.6% of the lumbar intervertebral discs showed signs of degeneration according to Pfirrmann. One disc with a grade above 3 was present. Modic changes in the thoracic/lumbar spine were prevalent in 1.7%/1.3% of the vertebrae. Degenerative endplate changes according to the Endplate defect score were found in 8.9% and 6.6% of the thoracic and lumbar spinal segments of the climbing group, respectively. Two apophyseal injuries were found, while no participants displayed signs of spondylolisthesis. There was no difference in point-prevalence of radiographic spinal changes between climbers and controls (0.07 < p < 1.0).

CONCLUSION: In this small cross-sectional study, only a low proportion of elite climbers displayed changes of the spinal endplates or intervertebral discs, as opposed to other sports with high spinal loads. Most observed abnormalities were low grade degenerative changes and did not differ statistically compared to controls.

PMID:36895033 | DOI:10.1186/s13102-023-00637-z

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