These are protrusions of disc material into the surface of the vertebral body. protrusions may contact the marrow of the vertebra, leading to inflammation. The protrusions are also associated with necrosis of the vertebral bone and the question of whether these protrusions and inflammation cause the necrosis, or whether the cartilage migrates into areas that have become necrotic due to other conditions, is under investigation.
They may or may not be symptomatic, and their etiological significance for back pain is controversial.
Schmorl's nodes can be detected radiographically, although they can be imaged better by CT or MRI.
It is believed that Schmorl's nodes develop following back trauma, although this is incompletely understood.
Other reports indicate someone can be born with Schmorl's nodes.
Schmorl's nodes are found in 40 - 75% of autopsies.
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Peng B, Wu W, Hou S, Shang W, Wang X, Yang Y (2003). "The pathogenesis of Schmorl's nodes". The Journal of bone and joint surgery. British volume85 (6): 879-82. PMID 12931811.
Takahashi K, Miyazaki T, Ohnari H, Takino T, Tomita K (1995). "Schmorl's nodes and low-back pain. Analysis of magnetic resonance imaging findings in symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals". European spine journal4 (1): 56-9. PMID 7749909.