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Global Spine J. 2013 Jun;3(3):153-64. doi: 10.1055/s-0033-1347298. Epub 2013 May 23.

The role of the vertebral end plate in low back pain.

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Orthopaedic Bioengineering Laboratory, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of California at San Francisco, California, United States.


End plates serve as the interface between rigid vertebral bodies and pliant intervertebral disks. Because the lumbar spine carries significant forces and disks don't have a dedicated blood supply, end plates must balance conflicting requirements of being strong to prevent vertebral fracture and porous to facilitate transport between disk cells and vertebral capillaries. Consequently, end plates are particularly susceptible to damage, which can increase communication between proinflammatory disk constituents and vascularized vertebral bone marrow. Damaged end plate regions can be sites of reactive bone marrow lesions that include proliferating nerves, which are susceptible to chemical sensitization and mechanical stimulation. Although several lines of evidence indicate that innervated end plate damage can be a source of chronic low back pain, its role in patients is likely underappreciated because innervated damage is poorly visualized with diagnostic imaging. This literature review summarizes end plate biophysical function and aspects of pathologic degeneration that can lead to vertebrogenic pain. Areas of future research are identified in the context of unmet clinical needs for patients with chronic low back pain.


end plate; intervertebral disk; low back pain; spine

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