Modic changes

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Modic changes are pathological changes in the bones of the spine, the vertebrae. These changes are situated in both the body of the vertebrae and in the end plate of the neighboring disc.

Causes of back pain[edit]

In 20% of the patients we can identify an anatomical reason for the pain,[1] such as a lumbar disc herniation, or stenosis which is a reduction in the circumference of the spinal canal.

There might be reasons for back pain that cannot be identified on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), for example muscular pain. But other areas like knee or hip pain do a lot better when it comes to diagnosing the exact reasons for the pain. The low percentage for back diagnosis might be due to the fact that the back is a much more complex and complicated structure.

Diagnosing modic changes[edit]

Modic changes are characterized on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). The 3 Modic classifications were first described and defined by Dr. Michael Modic in 1988.

Normal bone contains internal scaffolding, called trabeculae. Red bone marrow, which produces blood cells, is located in the hollows between the trabeculae.

  • In Modic type 1 there is vascular development in the vertebral body, with findings of inflammation and edema, but no trabecular damage or marrow changes.
  • In Modic type 2 there are changes in bone marrow, with fatty replacement of formerly red, cellular marrow normally seen there. With Modic type 2 changes the marrow is substituted by visceral fat, the same kind of fat we have on our hips and bellies.
  • Modic Changes type 3 are less common, with fractures of the trabecular bone, along with trabecular shortening and widening.

Modic changes have been observed in dogs.[2]

Modic changes and pain[edit]

Many studies[which?] have examined the relationship between Modic changes in the vertebrae in the spine and pain in the lower back. There is a very strong correlation between having Modic changes, especially Modic changes type 1, and suffering from pain in the lower back.

Studies[which?] have shown that patients with Modic changes are rather different from other patients with normal back pain. For example, 75 –80 % of patients suffering from Modic changes have constant pain, which means they do not ever have a pain-free moment day or night. There might be fluctuations in the intensity, but no break from the pain.


It is difficult to treat patients with Modic changes. Treatment that normally cures or help patients with normal back pain does not have effect on Modic changes or pain from Modic changes.

The recommended treatment for long lasting pain in the lower back is exercises, normally aided by the instruction of a qualified clinician. This is often followed by muscle strengthening and fitness training. This treatment does help the vast majority of normal back pain patients. But studies[which?] have shown that patients with Modic changes showed much higher pain score than patients with normal back pain, and most importantly that their pain increased with training. Other recent studies cited state no clinical difference between load reduction and rest or doing physio in relation to management or improvement of the condition. [3] Chiropractic spinal manipulation has found to be effective with Modic change patients. Modic positive patients reported higher levels improvement 2 weeks, 3 and 6 months compared to Modic negative patients.[4]


The following section is controversial [5] with concerns over methodology and also potential conflicts of interest, in that some of the researchers are associated with a company which certifies clinicians to diagnose the condition for £200. It is true that a study has been published, and results are interesting. However, spinal clinicians and researchers are agreed that further studies are needed, specifically fully blinded randomised controlled trials, to confirm or refute claims made in the published study. At this stage patients with low back pain should not consent to anti-biotic treatment without proper assessment and investigation under the care of a qualified spine surgeon or physician.

Scientist Hanne Albert at the largest back center in Europe, the Spine Centre of Southern Denmark led by Professor Claus Manniche, performed studies that have shown that 80% of patients with Modic changes type 1 are cured or much improved after a cheap and simple treatment.[6]


  1. ^ ???
  2. ^ Gendron, Doherr, Gavin; et al. (2012). "MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING CHARACTERIZATION OF VERTEBRAL ENDPLATE CHANGES IN THE DOG". Veterinary Radiology & Ultrasound. 53 (1): 50–56. doi:10.1111/j.1740-8261.2011.01861.x. PMID 21992691.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^
  4. ^ Michelé, Annen (1 March 2016). "Comparison of Outcomes in MRI Confirmed Lumbar Disc Herniation Patients With and Without Modic Changes Treated With High Velocity, Low Amplitude Spinal Manipulation". Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. 39 (3): 200–209. doi:10.1016/j.jmpt.2016.02.012. ISSN 0161-4754. PMID 27046146. Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  5. ^ "Back pain breakthrough crippled by doubt". 2013-06-16.
  6. ^ Albert HB, Sorensen JS, Christensen BS, Manniche C (2013). "Antibiotic treatment in patients with chronic low back pain and vertebral bone edema (Modic type 1 changes): a double-blind randomized clinical controlled trial of efficacy". European Spine Journal. 22 (4): 697–707. doi:10.1007/s00586-013-2675-y. PMC 3631045. PMID 23404353.