Geometry is an important indicator of disc mechanical function and degeneration. While the geometry and associated degenerative changes in the nucleus pulposus and the annulus fibrosus are well-defined, the geometry of the cartilage endplate (CEP) and its relationship to disc degeneration are unknown. The objectives of this study were to quantify CEP geometry in three dimensions using an MRI FLASH imaging sequence and evaluate relationships between CEP geometry and age, degeneration, spinal level, and overall disc geometry. To do so, we assessed the MRI-based measurements for accuracy and repeatability. Next, we measured CEP geometry across a larger sample set and correlated CEP geometric parameters to age, disc degeneration, level, and disc geometry. The MRI-based measures resulted in thicknesses (0.3–1 mm) that are comparable to prior measurements of CEP thickness. CEP thickness was greatest at the anterior/posterior (A/P) margins and smallest in the center. The CEP A/P thickness, axial area, and lateral width decreased with age but were not related to disc degeneration. Age-related, but not degeneration-related, changes in geometry suggest that the CEP may not follow the progression of disc degeneration. Ultimately, if the CEP undergoes significant geometric changes with aging and if these can be related to low back pain, a clinically feasible translation of the FLASH MRI-based measurement of CEP geometry presented in this study may prove a useful diagnostic tool.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine