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The primary objective of this study was to determine whether disc degeneration, as assessed through magnetic resonance imaging, is greater in smokers than in nonsmokers. To control for the maximum number of potentially confounding variables, pairs of identical twins highly discordant for cigarette smoking were selected as study subjects. Data analyses revealed 18% greater mean disc degeneration scores in the lumbar spines of smokers as compared with nonsmokers. The effect was present across the entire lumbar spine, implicating a mechanism acting systemically. This investigation demonstrates the efficiency of using carefully selected controls in studying conditions of multifactorial etiology, such as disc degeneration.