Intervertebral disc vacuum phenomenon

Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 11 May 2023

Vacuum phenomena involving the intervertebral discs is usually a result of an accumulation of gas, principally nitrogen, within the crevices of the intervertebral discs or adjacent vertebrae. This is a joint-specific example of the vacuum phenomenon.

It is a relatively common occurrence which can be observed in 1-3% of spinal radiographs and may even reach a prevalence of 20% in elderly individuals 5.

This phenomenon is asymptomatic.

This commonly occurs in association with intervertebral disc degenerative disease.

However, the presence of gas does not categorically imply merely degenerative disc disease, as other processes can lead to discs containing gas. Examples of other conditions with gas include:

No management is generally necessary.

There are occasional reports of nerve root compression associated with herniated intradiscal gas, known as pneumatic nerve root compression 6.

Magnusson first described the intervertebral disc vacuum phenomenon in 1937 5.

  • gas collection associated with a non-united vertebral fracture 7

ADVERTISEMENT: Supporters see fewer/no ads

Updating… Please wait.

 Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

 Thank you for updating your details.