Objectives: 1) Quantify the intensity of bone marrow oedema (BMO) present in the lumbar vertebrae of asymptomatic elite adult fast bowlers; 2) relate the intensity of BMO to bowling workload and lumbar bone stress injury (LBSI), and; 3) evaluate the utility of MRI screening to reduce the risk of LBSI.
Methods: Thirty-eight elite Australian fast bowlers (21.6 ± 3.7 years) completed 48 screening MRI over 3 years. BMO intensity was quantified on MRI retrospectively. Standard practices for bowling workload monitoring and injury diagnosis were followed.
Results: Clinically significant BMO (signal intensity ratio ≥ 2.0) was observed in 22 (46%, 95% CI 31–61) screening MRI. These bowlers had a total of 77 (IQR 45–115) days off between seasons, compared to 66 (IQR 41–94) days off for bowlers with a BMO intensity less than 2.0 (p = 0.510). Fifteen bowlers received follow up MRI as part of individualised management based on their screening MRI, of which less than five went on to develop LBSI in the subsequent season. There was no difference in days or balls bowled in the 12 months following screening MRI between those who sustained LBSI and those who did not.
Conclusions: BMO is common in asymptomatic bowlers. Identification of high-risk bowlers using screening MRI informs individualised management and may prevent progression to LBSI.