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OBJECTIVES: The relationship of degeneration to symptoms has been questioned. MRI detects apparently similar disc degeneration and degenerative changes in subjects both with and without back pain. We aimed to overcome these problems by re-annotating MRIs from asymptomatic and symptomatics groups onto the same grading system. METHODS: We analysed disc degeneration in pre-existing large MRI datasets. Their MRIs were all originally annotated on different scales. We re-annotated all MRIs independent of their initial grading system, using a verified, rapid automated MRI annotation system (SpineNet) which reported degeneration on the Pfirrmann (1-5) scale, and other degenerative features (herniation, endplate defects, marrow signs, spinal stenosis) as binary present/absent. We compared prevalence of degenerative features between symptomatics and asymptomatics. RESULTS: Pfirrmann degeneration grades in relation to age and spinal level were very similar for the two independent groups of symptomatics over all ages and spinal levels. Severe degenerative changes were significantly more prevalent in discs of symptomatics than asymptomatics in the caudal but not the rostral lumbar discs in subjects 

Original publication




Journal article


Eur spine j

Publication Date



Age-related degenerative changes, Automated annotation of MRI, Epidemiology, Modic signs, Pfirrmann grading, Spinal stenosis