Is intrinsic lumbar spine shape associated with lumbar disc degeneration? An exploratory study

Janet A. Deane, Anastasia V. Pavlova, Adrian K.P. Lim, Jennifer S. Gregory, Richard M. Aspden, Alison H. McGregor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Lumbar disc degeneration (LDD) is a condition associated with recurrent low back pain (LBP). Knowledge regarding effective management is limited. As a step towards the identification of risk, prognostic or potentially modifiable factors in LDD patients, the aim of this study was to explore the hypothesis that intrinsic lumbar spine shape is associated with LDD and clinical outcomes in symptomatic adults. METHODS: 3 T MRI was used to acquire T2-weighted sagittal images (L1-S1) from 70 healthy controls and LDD patients (mean age 49 years, SD 11, range 31-71 years). Statistical Shape Modelling (SSM) was used to describe lumbar spine shape. SSM identified variations in lumbar shape as 'modes' of variation and quantified deviation from the mean. Intrinsic shape differences were determined between LDD groups using analysis of variance with post-hoc comparisons. The relationship between intrinsic shape and self-reported function, mental health and quality of life were also examined. RESULTS: The first 7 modes of variation explained 91% of variance in lumbar shape. Higher LDD sum scores correlated with a larger lumbar lordosis (Mode 1 (55% variance), P = 0.02), even lumbar curve distribution (Mode 2 (12% variance), P = 0.05), larger anterior-posterior (A-P) vertebral diameter (Mode 3 (10% variance), P = 0.007) and smaller L4-S1 disc spaces (Mode 7 (2% variance), P ≤ 0.001). In the presence of recurrent LBP, LDD was associated with a larger A-P vertebral diameter (Mode 3) and a more even lumbar curvature with smaller L5/S1 disc spaces (Mode 4), which was significantly associated with patient quality of life (P = 0.002-0.04, rp = 0.43-0.61)). CONCLUSIONS: This exploratory study provides new evidence that intrinsic shape phenotypes are associated with LDD and quality of life in patients. Longitudinal studies are required to establish the potential role of these risk or prognostic shape phenotypes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number433
Pages (from-to)433
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Thank you to Lesley Honeyfield (Lead Research Radiographer, Charing Cross Hospital, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, London) for assisting with imaging optimisation and the acquisition of MR images and to all participants in this study. We also thank the University of Aberdeen Data Management Team for programming support for ‘Shape’ software.

JD would like to acknowledge the support of Versus Arthritis (Clinical Doctoral Fellowship award, grant number 20172) and the UKSSB and Society for Back Pain Research (Travel Fellowship award) for funding this research. Funders did not have a role in the design of the study, analysis or interpretation of the data.


  • Low back pain
  • Lumbar disc degeneration
  • MRI
  • Quality of life
  • Statistical shape modelling
  • HIP


Dive into the research topics of 'Is intrinsic lumbar spine shape associated with lumbar disc degeneration? An exploratory study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this