Clinical perspectives on secular trends of intervertebral foramen diameters in an industrialized European society

Eur Spine J. 2004 Dec;13(8):733-9. doi: 10.1007/s00586-004-0682-8. Epub 2004 Apr 1.


Low back pain origins have been a matter of great controversy. While spinal stenosis is now radiologically traceable, the alteration of intervertebral foramen is less clear. The aim of this study was to assess "secular trends"-alterations occurring from one generation to the next-in osseous intervertebral foramina of the major vertebral segments in an industrialized society, and to discuss their possible clinical implication. The macerated "maximum intervertebral foramen width" and "intervertebral foramen height" of all major vertebral levels in 71 non-pathologic Swiss adult skeletons from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, with known individual age and sex and similar geographic and socio-economic background, were measured by sliding caliper at validated landmarks. A secular trend of the increase in "maximum intervertebral foramen width" is found for most levels, with females showing a more prominent alteration. Additionally, the non-pathologic "maximum intervertebral foramen width" does not change with respect to individual age, nor is a significant side difference detectable. "Intervertebral foramen height," hereby defined as the difference of the dorsal vertebral body height minus pedicle height, demonstrates for most levels, and either sex, an insignificant negative secular trend. Neither stature nor skeletal robustness vary significantly through time within this particular sample. The results of this study, despite obvious inadequacies of methods used, exclude secular narrowing of the "maximum intervertebral foramen width" as the only cause of radiculopathy or spinal stenosis. Furthermore, we found a mild insignificant decrease of the clinically more relevant "intervertebral foramen height." Nevertheless, the detected short-time variability of the bony intervertebral foramen, independent of individual stature, skeletal robustness or age, argues for an enhanced focus on the understanding of clinically relevant changes of spinal morphology from generation to generation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Birth Certificates
  • Body Weights and Measures / statistics & numerical data*
  • Body Weights and Measures / trends*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / anatomy & histology*
  • Developed Countries / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Femur / anatomy & histology
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / anatomy & histology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reference Values
  • Sex Distribution
  • Social Class
  • Switzerland
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / anatomy & histology*
  • Time