Thoracolumbar Intervertebral Disc Area Morphometry in Elderly Chinese Men and Women: Radiographic Quantifications at Baseline and Changes at Year-4 Follow-up

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Study Design.

A population-based radiographic study with longitudinal follow-up.


To develop a quantitative index for lumbar disc space narrowing (DSN) evaluation in elderly subjects; to determine how DSN in the elderly is influenced by osteoporosis and sex.

Summary of Background Data.

There is paucity of research on quantitative classification of lumbar DSN based on disc areal morphometry.


With the database of Osteoporotic Fractures in Men (Hong Kong) and Osteoporotic Fractures in Women (Hong Kong) Studies and those who attended the year-4 follow-up (n = 1519 for men and n = 1546 for women), data of 491 women and 592 men were randomly selected. The anterior, middle, and posterior heights; anteroposterior diameter; and area of intervertebral discs (T4T5 to L4L5) were measured on lateral radiographs. Disc area index for lumbar spine (DAIL, disc area divided by the mean of the sum of square of the adjacent upper and lower vertebrae mid-height anterior-posterior diameter) was developed and compared with semiquantitative DSN expert grading.


DAIL correlated with semiquantitative grading, with sensitivity and specificity varying from 87.3% to 96.8% for grade 1 DSN (<30% reduction in disc height), and 92.9% to 100% for grade 3 DSN (>60% reduction in disc height). The thoracolumbar disc area loss among men and women during 4-years’ follow-up period varied between 1.32% and 3.56%, and it was greater for women (mean: 2.44%) than for men (mean: 1.90%, P = 0.044). Majority of lumbar DSN progressions during 72 to 76 years old were progression from normal disc space to grade 1 DSN. Osteoporosis was associated with greater disc area decrease, both for thoracic and lumbar discs.


Lumbar DSN can be quantified using DAIL. In elderly Chinese, intervertebral disc narrowing over a 4-year period was greater in women than men, and associated with the presence of osteoporosis.


Level of Evidence: 3

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