Lumbar intervertebral disc degeneration (LDD) frequently occurs in athletes. Associations between LDD and trunk muscles still remain unclear.
This study examined whether there is an association between the prevalence of LDD and the symmetry and size of the cross-sectional areas (CSAs) of the trunk muscles in combat sports athletes.
Participants in this study were 151 collegiate male combat sports athletes. A total of 755 lumbar intervertebral discs from L1-2 to L5-S1 in 151 athletes were assessed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a comprehensive grading system of LDD (grades I-V). All 151 athletes were divided into 2 groups: LDD and non-LDD. CSAs of trunk muscles at the L3-4 disc level were measured using MRI.
Sixty-nine athletes had LDD at 1 or more disc levels (45.7 %). The LDD grade for the lower 2 disc levels was significantly higher than that for the other disc levels (p < 0.001). The CSAs of the left and right sides in trunk muscles were significantly asymmetrical, independent of the LDD which was prevalent in the disc levels (obliques: p = 0.040; quadratus lumborum: p < 0.001). The relative CSAs of trunk muscles to their body weight in the LDD group were significantly smaller than those in the non-LDD group (rectus abdominis: p = 0.011; obliques: p = 0.024; quadratus lumborum: p = 0.006; lumbar erector spinae plus multifidus: p = 0.001).
This study suggests that the prevalence of LDD is associated with asymmetrical and relatively smaller CSAs of trunk muscles in combat sports athletes.