Degeneration of intervertebral discs and facet joints is one of the most frequently encountered spinal disorders. In order to describe and quantify degeneration and evaluate a possible relationship between degeneration and biomechanical parameters, e.g., the intervertebral range of motion and intradiscal pressure, a scoring system for degeneration is mandatory. However, few scoring systems for the assessment of degeneration of the cervical spine exist. Therefore, two separate objective scoring systems to qualitatively and quantitatively assess the degree of cervical intervertebral disc and facet joint degeneration were developed and validated. The scoring system for cervical disc degeneration consists of three variables which are individually scored on neutral lateral radiographs: “height loss” (0–4 points), “anterior osteophytes” (0–3 points) and “endplate sclerosis” (0–2 points). The scoring system for facet joint degeneration consists of four variables which are individually scored on neutral computed tomography scans: “hypertrophy” (0–2 points), “osteophytes” (0–1 point), “irregularity” on the articular surface (0–1 point) and “joint space narrowing” (0–1 point). Each variable contributes with varying importance to the overall degeneration score (max 9 points for the scoring system of cervical disc degeneration and max 5 points for facet joint degeneration). Degeneration of 20 discs and facet joints of 20 patients was blindly assessed by four raters: two neurosurgeons (one senior and one junior) and two radiologists (one senior and one junior), firstly based on first subjective impression and secondly using the scoring systems. Measurement errors and inter- and intra-rater agreement were determined. The measurement error of the scoring system for cervical disc degeneration was 11.1 versus 17.9% of the subjective impression results. This scoring system showed excellent intra-rater agreement (ICC = 0.86, 0.75–0.93) and excellent inter-rater agreement (ICC = 0.78, 0.64–0.88). Surgeons as well as radiologists and seniors as well as juniors obtained excellent inter- and intra-rater agreement. The measurement error of the scoring system for cervical facet joint degeneration was 20.1 versus 24.2% of the subjective impression results. This scoring system showed good intra-rater agreement (ICC = 0.71, 0.42–0.89) and fair inter-rater agreement (ICC = 0.49, 0.26–0.74). Both scoring systems fulfilled the criteria for recommendation proposed by Kettler and Wilke. Our scoring systems can be reliable and objective tools for assessing cervical disc and facet joint degeneration. Moreover, the scoring system of cervical disc degeneration was shown to be experience- and discipline-independent.
Disc and facet joint degenerationScoring systemCervical spine