Cross-sectional magnetic resonance imaging study of lumbar disc degeneration in 200 healthy individuals

J Neurosurg Spine. 2009 Oct;11(4):501-7. doi: 10.3171/2009.5.SPINE08675.


Object: The current cross-sectional observational MR imaging study aimed to investigate the prevalence and risk factors of lumbar disc degeneration in a healthy population and to establish the baseline data for a prospective longitudinal study.

Methods: Two hundred healthy volunteers participated in this study after providing informed consent. The status of lumbar disc degeneration was assessed by 3 independent observers, who used sagittal T2-weighted MR imaging. Demographic data collected included age, sex, body mass index, episode(s) of low-back pain, smoking status, hours of standing and sitting, and Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire scores. There were 68 men and 132 women whose mean age was 39.7 years (range 30-55 years). Eighty-two individuals (41%) were smokers, and the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire scores were averaged to 0.6/24.

Results: The prevalence of disc degeneration was 7.0% in L1-2, 12.0% in L2-3, 15.5% in L3-4, 49.5% in L4-5, and 53.0% in L5-S1. A herniated disc was observed at the corresponding levels in 0.5, 3.5, 6.5, 25.0, and 35.0% of cases respectively. Spondylolisthesis was observed in < 3% of this population. Multiple logistic regression analysis demonstrated that age and hours sitting were significantly related to L4-5 disc herniation. Episode of low-back pain, smoking status, body mass index, and hours standing did not affect the prevalence of disc degeneration.

Conclusions: The current study established the baseline data of lumbar disc degeneration in a 30- to 55-year-old healthy population for a prospective longitudinal study. Hours spent sitting significantly increased the prevalence of disc herniation, but episode of low-back pain, smoking status, obesity, and standing hours were not significant risk factors.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / epidemiology*
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / pathology*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / epidemiology*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / pathology*
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Lumbar Vertebrae
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires