A 52-year-old male with a past medical history of prostate cancer status post radiation therapy 10 years prior presents to the emergency department (ED) with the chief complaint of low back pain worsening over the past year. He characterizes the pain as a “dull, aching stiffness” associated with decreased motility.

Vitals: BP 128/82; HR 72; RR 18; T 37°C

General: Alert and oriented

MSK: Decreased range of motion of the lumbar spine with flexion; Heberden’s and Bouchard’s nodes on multiple fingers

Neurologic: Within normal limits with no focal motor or sensory deficits appreciated; deep tendon reflexes 2+ throughout

Comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), complete blood count (CBC), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), calcium, phosphorous, and urinalysis all within normal limits.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA): undetectable

HLA-B27: negative

Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis (DISH).

The classic clinical presentation is an older male with increasing back pain and stiffness that is worse in the morning, as seen in 80% of affected individuals. Common labs are unremarkable in patients with DISH. Peripheral joint involvement is possible, especially in joints that are not normally affected by primary osteoarthritides, such as the foot and ankle. Heel spurs, Achilles tendinitis, and plantar fasciitis may be seen as well. Differentiating features of DISH compared to ankylosing spondylitis include older age of presentation, preservation of facet joints and disk spaces, and no association with HLA-B27.

This patient has an increased risk of spinal fractures. Thus, if an older patient with known DISH presents with acute back pain following minor trauma, the workup will require a comprehensive neurovascular exam and imaging of the entire spine due to the patient’s disposition to spinal fractures.

Take-Home Points

  • Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) is an occult noninflammatory disorder of unknown etiology characterized by calcification and ossification of spinal ligaments and entheses on imaging.
  • Diagnostic criteria include linear calcification and ossification along the anterolateral aspect of multiple consecutive vertebral bodies, most often seen in the thoracic spine and less commonly seen in the cervical and lumbar spines.
  • Therapy for patients with DISH is similar to that of chronic lower back pain: physical therapy, exercise, and symptomatic pain management with acetaminophen or NSAIDs.
  • Patients should be educated to monitor acute changes in localized spine pain or neurologic disturbances, as DISH predisposes patients to fractures, even from minor injuries.

  • Cammisa M, De Serio A, Guglielmi G. Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis. Eur J Radiol. 1998 May;27 Suppl 1:S7-11. doi: 10.1016/s0720-048x(98)00036-9. PMID: 9652495.

 

Daniel Phillips

Daniel Phillips

Medical Student
University of South Alabama College of Medicine
Daniel Phillips

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Michael Sternberg, MD

Michael Sternberg, MD

Professor
Department of Emergency Medicine
University of South Alabama
Michael Sternberg, MD

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