Use of Single-Photon Emission Computed Tomography Imaging for Hypermetabolic Facet Identification in Diagnosis of Cervical and Axial Back Pain

Roberto J. Perez-Roman, G. Damian Brusko, S. Shelby Burks, Aldo N. Serafini, Michael Y. Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Few studies have used hybrid single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)/computed tomography (CT) scan to identify degenerative facet disease. We aimed to determine the incidence of hypermetabolic facets on SPECT/CT imaging in patients with axial neck or back pain to elucidate the value of SPECT/CT scan in identifying pain generators. Methods: A retrospective review of adult patients with axial neck or back pain was conducted. A total of 190 patients underwent high-resolution SPECT/CT imaging using a standardized protocol from January 2010 to April 2018. Facet joints with increased radionuclide uptake on SPECT imaging were characterized as hypermetabolic. Number, level, and laterality of hypermetabolic facets were recorded based on review of imaging and radiologist impressions. Results: The average age of the patients was 58 ± 13 years, and 51% of patients were men. A total of 85 patients (48%) demonstrated zygapophyseal joint hypermetabolism (ZJH) on SPECT imaging. A total of 202 hypermetabolic facets were identified, indicating the average number of facets with ZJH was 2.38 ± 1.91. Of patients with a positive scan, lumbar facets were most commonly affected (69% of ZJH) followed by cervical (24%) and thoracic regions (6%). C1-2 and C2-3 (22% each of cervical ZJH) and L4-5 (32% of lumbar ZJH) were most commonly affected in the cervical and lumbar regions, respectively. Conclusions: Nearly half of all patients with axial neck or back pain demonstrated ZJH on SPECT/CT imaging, supporting ZJH sites as potential pain generators and targets for treatment. Our results support the role for SPECT/CT imaging in the workup of patients with axial neck or back pain, which may reduce invasive diagnostic procedures and aid in treatment planning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e487-e492
JournalWorld neurosurgery
StatePublished - May 2020



  • Axial pain
  • Facet joint
  • Incidence
  • Single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)
  • Spine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology

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