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26.11.2019 | original article | Ausgabe 1-2/2020 Open Access

Wiener klinische Wochenschrift 1-2/2020

When an incidental MRI finding becomes a clinical issue

Posterior lumbar subcutaneous edema in degenerative, inflammatory, and infectious conditions of the lumbar spine

Wiener klinische Wochenschrift > Ausgabe 1-2/2020
MD Ursula Schwarz-Nemec, MD Klaus M. Friedrich, MD Michael A. Arnoldner, MS Felix K. Schwarz, PhD Michael Weber, MD Siegfried Trattnig, MD Josef G. Grohs, MD Stefan F. Nemec
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On magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), posterior lumbar subcutaneous edema (PLSE) is a frequent incidental, yet unclear finding within the deep subcutaneous perifascial tissue. This study aimed to investigate PLSE in various pathological lumbar conditions.


This retrospective study included the MR images of the lumbar spine of 279 patients (age range 18–82 years) without cardiovascular, renal or hepatic diseases, 79 of whom had low-grade disc degeneration, 101 combined endplate and facet joint degeneration, 53 axial spondyloarthritis and 46 infectious spondylodiscitis. There were 232 patients with a body mass index (BMI) <30, and 47 with a BMI ≥30 (obese). For each group, the relationship between PLSE and BMI was analyzed using multiple logistic regression, and between PLSE extension and BMI using ordinal regression.


A PLSE was found in 11/79 (13.9%) patients with disc degeneration, 37/101 (36.6%) with endplate and facet joint degeneration, 7/53 (13.2%) with spondyloarthritis, and 28/46 (60.9%) with spondylodiscitis. For each group, a statistically significant relationship was demonstrated between PLSE and BMI (P = 0.000–P = 0.031), except for spondylodiscitis (P = 0.054), as well as between PLSE extension and BMI (P = 0.000–P = 0.049). A PLSE was found in 21.1% of nonobese and 72.3% of obese patients (P = 0.000).


The presence of PLSE seems to be associated with various lumbar conditions, particularly in obese patients. Its perifascial location may suggest a potential fascial origin; however, PLSE should not to be confused with posttraumatic, postsurgical or infectious edema or edema associated with internal diseases.

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