Summary by Utah Sports and Wellness

Link to original article:

  • American Journal of Neuroradiology (AJNR) April 2015; Vol. 36; No. 4; pp. 811–816
  • 53 references
  • The objective of this study was to estimate the prevalence, by decade age (20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 years), of common degenerative spine conditions.


Key points from this article:

  • MRI imaging is highly sensitive in detecting spinal degenerative changes.
  • Degenerative spinal changes often occur in pain-free individuals as well as those with back pain.
  • Low back pain has a high prevalence in industrialized countries, affecting up to two-thirds of adults at some point in their lifetime.
  • Back pain is associated with high health care costs and has substantial economic consequences due to loss of productivity from back pain–associated disability.
  • Prior studies have demonstrated that imaging findings of spinal degeneration associated with back pain are also present in a large proportion of asymptomatic individuals.
  • Imaging findings of spine degeneration are present in high proportions of asymptomatic individuals, increasing with age.
  • Disk degeneration prevalence ranged from 37% of asymptomatic individuals 20 years of age to 96% of those 80 years of age, with a large increase in the prevalence through 50 years.
  • Disk height loss and disk bulge were moderately prevalent among younger individuals, and prevalence estimates for these findings increased steadily by approximately 1% per year.
  • Disk degeneration and signal loss were present in nearly 90% of individuals 60 years of age or older.
  • The study suggests that imaging findings of degenerative changes such as disk degeneration, disk signal loss, disk height loss, disk protrusion, and facet arthropathy are generally part of the normal aging process rather than pathologic processes requiring intervention.

This study shows that degenerative spinal changes are common in asymptomatic subjects of all ages. Ironically, this same group has also noted that in patients with back pain, the incidence of degenerative spinal changes are significantly higher than in the asymptomatic controls. With a prevalence of degenerative findings of >90% in asymptomatic individuals 60 years of age or older, our study supports the hypothesis that degenerative changes observed on CT and MR imaging are often seen with normal aging.