The relationship between facet joint osteoarthritis and disc degeneration of the lumbar spine: an MRI study

Eur Spine J. 1999;8(5):396-401. doi: 10.1007/s005860050193.


The role of MRI in assessing facet joint osteoarthritis is unclear. By developing a grading system for severity of facet joint osteoarthritis on MRI, the relationship between disc degeneration and facet joint osteoarthritis was determined. The accuracy of MRI in assessing facet joint osteoarthritis against CT was 94%. Under 40 years of age, the degree of disc degeneration varied among individuals. Over the age of 60, most of the discs were markedly degenerated. Under 40 years of age osteoarthritic changes in facet joints were minimal. Over the age of 60, variable degrees of facet joint osteoarthritis were observed but some facets did not show osteoarthritis. No facet joint osteoarthritis was found in the absence of disc degeneration and most facet joint osteoarthritis appeared at the intervertebral levels with advanced disc degeneration. Disc degeneration is more closely associated with aging than with facet joint osteoarthritis. The present study supports the hypothesis that "disc degeneration precedes facet joint osteoarthritis", and also supports the concept that it may take 20 or more years to develop facet joint osteoarthritis following the onset of disc degeneration.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis / diagnosis
  • Osteoarthritis / etiology*
  • Spinal Diseases / complications*
  • Spinal Diseases / diagnosis