If you’ve ever had an MRI of your spine, you may have heard the term “high-intensity zone” mentioned in reference to the results. But what exactly are high-intensity zones in your back, and how might they relate to the treatment of spine-related aches and pains or the prevention of problems in the future? Here’s what you need to know.
To fully understand high-intensity zones in relation to your spine, it helps to have a better understanding of how the discs that cushion the bones of your spine actually function. These spongy discs are made up of a tough outer layer that encases a softer, gel-like material. It’s this outer layer that takes the brunt of regular wear and tear from your various daily movements.
As certain areas of spinal discs become overstressed, fibers on the outside of the discs can start to tear. These tears may not produce any symptoms, or they could be a source of discomfort that becomes more noticeable as you make certain movements, such as bending or going from a standing to a sitting position. These spinal disc tears also show up as white spots on MRIs. The areas where these white spots are seen are known as high-intensity zones.
High-intensity zones often correlate with areas where patients experience back pain, either currently or in the future. In one study involving subjects with and without back pain, more than half the individuals with spine-related pain also had high-intensity zones that were identified during MRIs. However, 20 percent of the patients in the group with no back pain had at least one high-intensity zone identified by an MRI scan.
Whether or not you’re experiencing actual symptoms, being aware of high-intensity zones can provide an added incentive to be more mindful of your spine and its supporting discs, which may minimize your odds of being sidelined with disc-related pain later. If you’re dealing with disc-related discomfort, the information gathered from an MRI can help your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon determine where to focus treatment efforts.
Your physical therapist may also use the results to adjust your exercise routine. For instance, you may be advised to strengthen the muscles around your high-intensity zones so your weaker spinal discs are better supported. The good news is that many patients with disc-related pain often respond well to conservative care that involves:
• Losing weight
• Getting regular exercise
• Avoiding foods that tend to make inflammation worse—sugary drinks and snacks and processed foods are the main culprits
• Improving posture
• Working on personalized physical therapy plans
Being aware of your high-intensity zones may also increase your odds of obtaining relief with non-surgical treatments if you’re living with pain because of worn or weak spinal discs. If surgery becomes necessary, an MRI record of your discs’ weak spots can also help a spine specialist determine the appropriate procedure, such as a lumbar disc replacement. Santa Monica patients who do reach the point where conservative treatments are no longer effective often find relief through surgical intervention.
Patients with high-intensity zones who would like the advice of a trusted spine surgeon should contact the spinal health experts at The Spine Institute. Our specialists lead the industry in innovative methods and cutting-edge treatments that enable patients to get back to their normal activities as soon as possible. Call us today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.