Qualitative grading of severity of lumbar spinal stenosis based on the morphology of the dural sac on magnetic resonance images

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2010 Oct 1;35(21):1919-24. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e3181d359bd.


Study design: Retrospective radiologic study on a prospective patient cohort.

Objective: To devise a qualitative grading of lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS), study its reliability and clinical relevance.

Summary of background data: Radiologic stenosis is assessed commonly by measuring dural sac cross-sectional area (DSCA). Great variation is observed though in surfaces recorded between symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals.

Methods: We describe a 7-grade classification based on the morphology of the dural sac as observed on T2 axial magnetic resonance images based on the rootlet/cerebrospinal fluid ratio. Grades A and B show cerebrospinal fluid presence while grades C and D show none at all. The grading was applied to magnetic resonance images of 95 subjects divided in 3 groups as follows: 37 symptomatic LSS surgically treated patients; 31 symptomatic LSS conservatively treated patients (average follow-up, 2.5 and 3.1 years); and 27 low back pain (LBP) sufferers. DSCA was also digitally measured. We studied intra- and interobserver reliability, distribution of grades, relation between morphologic grading and DSCA, as well relation between grades, DSCA, and Oswestry Disability Index.

Results: Average intra- and interobserver agreement was substantial and moderate, respectively (k = 0.65 and 0.44), whereas they were substantial for physicians working in the study originating unit. Surgical patients had the smallest DSCA. A larger proportion of C and D grades was observed in the surgical group. Surface measurements resulted in overdiagnosis of stenosis in 35 patients and under diagnosis in 12. No relation could be found between stenosis grade or DSCA and baseline Oswestry Disability Index or surgical result. C and D grade patients were more likely to fail conservative treatment, whereas grades A and B were less likely to warrant surgery.

Conclusion: The grading defines stenosis in different subjects than surface measurements alone. Since it mainly considers impingement of neural tissue it might be a more appropriate clinical and research tool as well as carrying a prognostic value.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dura Mater / pathology*
  • Dura Mater / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiopathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Spinal Canal / pathology*
  • Spinal Canal / physiopathology
  • Spinal Stenosis / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Stenosis / pathology*