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Spine J. 2001 Jan-Feb;1(1):47-56.

The relationship between disc degeneration and flexibility of the lumbar spine.

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Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, 1653 West Congress Parkway, Chicago, IL 60612-3833, USA.



A relationship between degenerative changes of the intervertebral disc and biomechanical functions of the lumbar spine has been suggested. However, the exact relationship between the grade of disc degeneration and the flexibility of the motion segment is not known.


To investigate the relationship between degenerative grades of the intervertebral disc and three-dimensional (3-D) biomechanical characteristics of the motion segment under multidirectional loading conditions.


A biomechanical and imaging study of human cadaveric spinal motion segments.


One hundred fourteen lumbar motion segments from T12-L1 to L5-S1 taken from 47 fresh cadaver spines (average age at death, 68 years; range, 39 to 87 years) were used in this study. The severity of degeneration (grades I to V according to Thomson's system) was determined using magnetic resonance (MR) images and cryomicrotome sections. Pure unconstrained moments with dead weights were applied to the motion segments in six load steps. The directions of loading included flexion, extension, right and left axial rotation, and right and left lateral bending.


When the MR images were graded, 2 segments had grade I disc degeneration; 45, grade II; 20, grade III; 26, grade IV; and 21, grade V. When the cryomicrotome sections were graded, 14 segments had grade I disc degeneration; 31, grade II; 22, grade III; 26, grade IV; and 21, grade V. Segments from the upper lumbar levels (T12-L1 to L3-4) tended to have greater rotational movement in flexion, extension, and axial rotation with disc degeneration up to grade IV, whereas the motion decreased when the disc degenerated to grade V. In the lower lumbar spine at L4-5 and L5-S1, motion in axial rotation and lateral bending was increased in grade III.


These results suggest that kinematic properties of the lumbar spine are related to disc degeneration. Greater motion generally was found with disc degeneration, particularly in grades III and IV, in which radial tears of the annulus fibrosus are found. Disc space collapse and osteophyte formation as found in grade V resulted in stabilization of the motion segments.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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