Height of lumbar discs measured from radiographs compared with degeneration and height classified from MR images
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The relation between height of lumbar discs (measured from lateral radiographic views) and disc degeneration (classified from MR images) deserves attention in view of the wide, often parallel or interchanged use of both methods. The time sequence of degenerative signs and decrease of disc height is controversial. To clarify the issue, this cross-sectional study documents the relation between disc degeneration and disc height in a selected cohort. Forty-three subjects were selected at random from a cohort examined for potential disc-related disease caused by long-term lifting and carrying. From each subject a lateral radiographic view of the lumbar spine as well as findings from an MR investigation of (in most cases) levels T12/L1 to L5/S1 were available; thus, n = 237 lumbar discs were available for measurement and classification. Disc height was measured from the radiographic views with a new protocol compensating for image distortion and permitting comparison with normal, age- and gender-appropriate disc height. Degeneration as well as disc height were classified twice from MR images by independent observers in a blinded fashion. Disc degeneration classified from MR images is not related to a measurable disc height loss in the first stage of degeneration, whereas progressive degeneration goes along with progressive loss of disc height, though with considerable interindividual variation. Loss of disc height classified from MR images is on average compatible with loss of disc height measured from radiographs. In individual discs, however, classification of height loss from MR images is imprecise. The first sign of disc degeneration (a moderate loss of nucleus signal) precedes disc height decrease. As degeneration progresses, disc height decreases. Disc height decrease and progress of degeneration, however, appear to be only loosely correlated.
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