PURPOSE: Back pain is a major problem worldwide and is linked to intervertebral disc degeneration and Modic change. Several studies report growth of bacteria following extraction of degenerate discs at spine surgery. A pathophysiological role for infection in back pain has been proposed.

METHOD: We conducted a PRISMA systematic review. MEDLINE, PubMed, Scopus and Web of Science were searched with the terms Modic change, intervertebral dis*, bacteria, microb*, and infect*. Date limits of 2001-2021 were set. Human studies investigating the role of bacteria in disc degeneration or Modic change in vertebrae were included.

RESULTS: Thirty-six articles from 34 research investigations relating to bacteria in human degenerate discs were found. Cutibacterium acnes was identified in pathological disc material. A 'candidate bacterium' approach has been repeatedly adopted which may have biased results to find species a priori, with disc microbial evidence heavily weighted to find C. acnes.

CONCLUSION: Evidence to date implicates C. acnes identified through culture, microscopy and sequencing, with some suggestion of diverse bacterial colonisation in the disc. This review found studies which used culture methods and conventional PCR for bacterial detection. Further agnostic investigation using newer methods should be undertaken.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Spine Journal
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Dec 2021


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