Discs degenerate before facets

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1990 Feb;15(2):111-3. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199002000-00012.


The purpose of this study was to determine the relationship between facet joint osteoarthritis and disc degeneration in subjects in whom both MRI and CT scans had been obtained. The MRI scans were used to determine disc degeneration, the CT scans to determine facet joint osteoarthritis. It was hypothesized that disc degeneration would sometimes occur without the presence of facet joint osteoarthritis, but that facet joint osteoarthritis would only occur in the presence of disc degeneration. Sixty-eight sets of scans were included and 330 discs and 390 facet joints were evaluated. There were 144 degenerated discs and 41 levels with facet osteoarthritis. Disc degeneration without facet osteoarthritis was found at 108 levels, while all but one of 41 levels with facet degeneration also had disc degeneration. That one exception occurred in a patient with advanced Paget's disease. Disc degeneration and facet osteoarthritis both were found to increase with increasing age. There was no difference between women and men. Degeneration at the L4-5 and L5-S1 levels was significantly more prevalent than at the L3-4 levels, while degeneration at the L3-4 level was significantly more common than at the L1-2 and L2-3 levels. We conclude that disc degeneration occurs before facet joint osteoarthritis, which may be secondary to mechanical changes in the loading of the facet joints.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / diagnostic imaging
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis / diagnosis*
  • Osteoarthritis / diagnostic imaging
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed