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Spinal “disease” in elite athletes

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

In a fresh study of athletes who competed in the 2016 summer olympics, 52% of athletes who received MRI imaging of the spine had

moderate to severe spine disease on MRI during the 2016 Summer Olympics, including moderate/severe degenerative disc changes with varying degrees of disc bulges and herniations.

The authors wondered “how elite athletes, such as those participating in the Olympics, can compete at the highest level with the kind of severe spinal pathology seen in our study.” Indeed. Probably because “severe spinal pathology” ≠ pain & functional limitation? Just sayin’. The British Journal of Sports Medicine tweets:

The word ‘disease’ needs to be qualified. There were no clinical correlates in this study other than that the athletes were competing at Olympic Games. So it’s a report of radiological variation.