Review of existing grading systems for cervical or lumbar disc and facet joint degeneration

Eur Spine J. 2006 Jun;15(6):705-18. doi: 10.1007/s00586-005-0954-y. Epub 2005 Sep 20.


The aim of this literature review was to present and to evaluate all grading systems for cervical and lumbar disc and facet joint degeneration, which are accessible from the MEDLINE database. A MEDLINE search was conducted to select all articles presenting own grading systems for cervical or lumbar disc or facet joint degeneration. To give an overview, these grading systems were listed systematically depending on the spinal region they refer to and the methodology used for grading. All systems were checked for reliability tests and those recommended for use having an interobserver Kappa or Intraclass Correlation Coefficient >0.60 if disc degeneration was graded and >0.40 if facet joint degeneration was graded. MEDLINE search revealed 42 different grading systems. Thirty of these were used to grade lumbar spine degeneration, ten were used to grade cervical spine degeneration and two were used to grade both. Thus, the grading systems for the lumbar spine represented the vast majority of all 42 grading systems. Interobserver reliability tests were found for 12 grading systems. Based on their Kappa or Intraclass Correlation Coefficients nine of these could be recommended for use and three could not. All other systems could neither be recommended nor not be recommended since reliability tests were missing. These systems should therefore first be tested before use. The design of the grading systems varied considerably. Five grading systems were beginning with the lowest degree of degeneration, 37, however, with the normal, not degenerated state. A 5-grade scale was used in six systems, a 4-grade scale in 24, a 3-grade scale in eight and a 2-grade scale in three systems. In 15 cases the normal, not degenerated state was assigned to "grade 0", in another 15 cases, however, this state was assigned to "grade 1". This wide variety in the design of the grading systems makes comparisons difficult and may easily lead to confusion. We would therefore recommend to define certain standards. Our suggestion would be to use a scale of three to five grades, to begin the scale with the not degenerated state and to assign this state to "grade 0".

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cervical Vertebrae / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Spinal Diseases / diagnosis
  • Spinal Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Diseases / pathology
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed