Human L3L4 intervertebral disc mean 3D shape, modes of variation, and their relationship to degeneration

John M. Peloquin, Jonathon H. Yoder, Nathan T. Jacobs, Sung M. Moon, Alexander C. Wright, Edward J. Vresilovic, Dawn M. Elliott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Intervertebral disc mechanics are affected by both disc shape and disc degeneration, which in turn each affect the other; disc mechanics additionally have a role in the etiology of disc degeneration. Finite element analysis (FEA) is a favored tool to investigate these relationships, but limited data for intervertebral disc 3D shape has forced the use of simplified or single-subject geometries, with the effect of inter-individual shape variation investigated only in specialized studies. Similarly, most data on disc shape variation with degeneration is based on 2D mid-sagittal images, which incompletely define 3D shape changes. Therefore, the objective of this study was to quantify inter-individual disc shape variation in 3D, classify this variation into independently-occurring modes using a statistical shape model, and identify correlations between disc shape and degeneration. Three-dimensional disc shapes were obtained from MRI of 13 human male cadaver L3L4 discs. An average disc shape and four major modes of shape variation (representing 90% of the variance) were identified. The first mode represented disc axial area and was significantly correlated to degeneration (R2=0.44), indicating larger axial area in degenerate discs. Disc height variation occurred in three distinct modes, each also involving non-height variation. The statistical shape model provides an average L3L4 disc shape for FEA that is fully defined in 3D, and makes it convenient to generate a set of shapes with which to represent aggregate inter-individual variation. Degeneration grade-specific shapes can also be generated. To facilitate application, the model is included in this paper's supplemental content.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2452-2459
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number10
StatePublished - Jul 18 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Rehabilitation


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