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Spine and Back Health

What is Vacuum Phenomenon

09/24/2009

Question:

I had a spinal fusion 4 years ago. L4 -S1. I am still having pain. In the middle of my lower back and each buttock. Recent MRI Cat and XRays show degenerative changes in sacroiliac joints with vacuum phenomenon. Also there is disc desiccation disc bulg mild posterior vertebral spurs. Mild degenerative facet change with minimal foraminin narrowing. Could any of these things be causing my pain?

Answer:

Hello, thank you for your question. "Vacuum phenomenon" is a situation where either a spinal disc or a joint degenerates (wears out) and over time, as the cartilage erodes away, some gas bubbles build up in the joint space or inside the disc. It's basically air. It shows up on X-rays as air inside the joint. It is an indirect sign of things wearing out, but by itself it doesn't really cause any problems, and is not thought to be painful. However, if the joint/disc is worn out enough that certainly could be a cause of pain. Of course, I cannot tell you what the source of your pain might be.

It sounds like you should see a spine specialist and be examined. The x-ray findings you are describing might have everything or nothing to do with your pain, and the "meaning" of them cannot be determined without a full history and examination to back them up. Good luck.

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Response by:

David J Hart, MD David J Hart, MD
Associate Professor of Neurosurgery
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University