Close, impinging and overriding spinous processes in the thoracolumbar spine: The relationship between radiological and scintigraphic findings and clinical signs

March 2012
Equine Veterinary Journal

Reasons for performing study: There has been no objective study comparing radiological features of spinous processes (SPs) in the thoracolumbar region and/or scintigraphic findings with clinical signs.

Objectives: To investigate the relationship between the presence or absence of clinical signs of back pain and: 1) radiological findings of close, impinging or overriding SPs; 2) increased radiopharmaceutical uptake (IRU) in the SPs; and 3) the combination of radiological findings and IRU. Also to determine the prevalence of concurrent osseous pathology.

Methods: Five-hundred and eighty-two horses, presented for perceived back pain and poor performance, underwent comprehensive clinical investigation including diagnostic analgesia of the forelimbs, hindlimbs, back and sacroiliac joints, and radiographic and scintigraphic evaluation of the thoracolumbar spine. Radiological and scintigraphic grades were determined subjectively. Statistical analysis was performed to determine the relationships between clinical signs of back pain, radiological and scintigraphic features, age, breed, gender, discipline, height and weight.

Results: Thoroughbreds (TBs) were over-represented with thoracolumbar pain compared with Warmbloods and TB cross breeds. There was a significant association between maximum and total radiological grades of the SPs and thoracolumbar pain, between maximum and total grades of IRU and thoracolumbar pain, and between a combination of radiological and scintigraphic abnormalities and thoracolumbar pain. Horses with osteoarthritis (OA) of the synovial intervertebral articulations (SIAs) were more likely to have thoracolumbar pain than horses with lesions of the SPs alone, but the presence of OA of the SIAs and lesions of the SPs was associated with the highest likelihood of thoracolumbar pain.

Conclusions and potential relevance: Fore- or hindlimb lameness and/or pain associated with the sacroiliac joints could mimic primary thoracolumbar pain. A combination of radiology and scintigraphy gives the most accurate prediction of thoracolumbar pain, but diagnostic analgesia is crucial for accurate diagnosis.