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Eur Spine J. 2012 Nov;21(11):2316-23. doi: 10.1007/s00586-012-2415-8. Epub 2012 Jun 29.

A morphological study of lumbar vertebral endplates: radiographic, visual and digital measurements.

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3-44, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Alberta, 8205 114 St, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2G4, Canada.



Clinical observations suggest that endplate shape and size are related to complications of disc arthroplasty surgery. Yet, the morphology of the vertebral endplate has not been well defined. This study was conducted to characterize the morphology of lumbar vertebral endplates and to quantify their morphometrics using radiographic, visual and digital measures.


A total of 591 vertebral endplates from 76 lumbosacral spines of men were studied (mean age 51.3 years). The shape of the vertebral endplates was classified as concave, flat and irregular, and was evaluated from both radiographs and cadaveric samples. Each endplate was further digitized using a laser scanner to quantify diameters, surface area and concavity for the whole endplate and its components (central endplate and epiphyseal rim). The morphological characteristics and morphometrics of the vertebral endplates were depicted.


In both radiographic and visual assessments, more cranial endplates (relative to the disc) were concave and more caudal endplates were flat at all disc levels (p < 0.001). On average, the mean concavity depth was 1.5 mm for the cranial endplate and 0.7 mm for the caudal endplate. From L1/2 down to L5/S1 discs, the vertebral endplate gradually changed into a more oval shape. The central endplate was approximately 70% of the diameter of the whole endplate and the width of the epiphyseal rim varied from 3 to 7 mm.


There is marked morphological asymmetry between the two adjacent endplates of a lumbar intervertebral disc: the cranial endplate is more concave than the caudal endplate. The size and shape of the vertebral endplate also vary considerably between the upper and lower lumbar regions.

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