Low dose CT of the lumbar spine compared with radiography: a study on image quality with implications for clinical practice

Acta Radiol. 2016 May;57(5):602-11. doi: 10.1177/0284185115595667. Epub 2015 Jul 27.


Background: Lumbar spine radiography is often performed instead of CT for radiation dose concerns.

Purpose: To compare image quality and diagnostic information from low dose lumbar spine CT at an effective dose of about 1 mSv with lumbar spine radiography.

Material and methods: Fifty-one patients were examined by both methods. Five reviewers scored all examinations on eight image quality criteria using a five-graded scale and also assessed three common pathologic changes.

Results: Low dose CT scored better than radiography on the following: sharp reproduction of disc profile and vertebral end-plates (odds ratio [OR], 1.8; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.3-2.5), intervertebral foramina and pedicles (OR, 4.3; 95% CI, 3.1-5.9), intervertebral joints (OR, 139; 95% CI, 59-326), spinous and transverse processes (OR, 7.0; 95% CI, 4.3-11.2), sacro-iliac joints (OR, 4.2; 95% CI, 3.2-5.7), reproduction of the adjacent soft tissues (OR, 2.9; 95% CI, 2.1-4.0), and absence of any obscuring superimposed gastrointestinal gas and contents (OR, 188; 95% CI, 66-539). Radiography scored better on sharp reproduction of cortical and trabecular bone (OR, 0.3; 95% CI, 0.2-0.4). The reviewers visualized disk degeneration, spondylosis/diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) and intervertebral joint osteoarthritis more clearly and were more certain with low dose CT. Mean time to review low dose CT was 204 s (95% CI, 194-214 s.), radiography 152 s (95% CI, 146-158 s.). The effective dose for low dose CT was 1.0-1.1 mSv, for radiography 0.7 mSv.

Conclusion: Low dose lumbar spine CT at about 1 mSv has superior image quality to lumbar spine radiography with more anatomical and diagnostic information.

Keywords: Radiation dose; X-ray computed; axial skeleton; radiography; tomography.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiation Dosage*
  • Spinal Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*