To find out whether segmental magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings such as intervertebral disc degeneration (DD) and facet joint osteoarthritis (FJO) are associated with motion deficiencies as seen in common mobility tests and observed range of motion (ROM). A total of 112 female subjects, nurses and office workers, with and without low back pain, were examined by clinical experts, and lumbar mobility was measured including modified Schober, fingertip-to-floor distance (FTFD) and ZEBRIS motion analysis. An MRI of the lumbar spine was made. Mobility findings were correlated with segmental morphologic changes as seen on MRI at the levels of L1-2 through L5-S1. Only a few statistically significant correlations between MRI findings and the results of the mobility tests could be found. Lateral bending was weakly and negatively correlated to DD and FJO but only on the level of L5-S1. The FTFD showed a weak positive correlation to endplate changes on the level of L4-5. When ROM is observed by clinical experts, there are several significant relationships between MRI findings and the observed motion. There is a highly significant segmental correlation between DD and disc form alteration as seen on MRI on the level of single motion segments. Pain history and current pain level did not moderate any association between MRI and mobility. There is no clear relationship between the structural changes represented by MRI and the measured mobility tests used in this study. Our findings suggest that close observation of spinal motion may provide at least equal information about the influence of spinal structures on motion than the commonly used measured mobility tests do.
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