Tidemark avulsions are a predominant form of endplate irregularity

Britta Berg-Johansen, Deeptee Jain, Ellen C. Liebenberg, Aaron J. Fields, Thomas M. Link, Conor W. O'Neill, Jeffrey C. Lotz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Study Design. Descriptive histologic and magnetic resonance imaging study of human cadaveric spines. Objective. To identify and characterize common endplate pathologies to form a histologic foundation for an etiology-based classification system. Summary of Background Data. Irregularities at the spinal disc-vertebra interface are associated with back pain and intervertebral disc herniation injuries. However, there is currently a lack of consensus regarding terminology for classification. This limits the potential for advancing understanding of back pain mechanisms, and prohibits meaningful comparisons for identifying priorities for prevention and treatment. Prior classification systems largely rely on observations from clinical imaging, which may miss subtle pathologic features. Methods. Fifteen cadaveric spines with moderate to severe disc degeneration were obtained and scanned with MRI in the sagittal plane using two-dimensional T1-weighted and T2-weighted fast spin-echo sequences. Eighty-nine lumbar and lower thoracic bone-disc-bone motion segments were extracted, fixed, sectioned, and stained for histologic evaluation. Focal endplate irregularities were identified and categorized based on features that inferred causation. The presence, type, and anatomic location were recorded. A classification system with three major categories of focal endplate irregularities was created. Results. Disc-vertebra avulsion and vertebral rim degeneration were more common than subchondral nodes: 50% of irregularities were classified as rim degeneration (75/150), 35% were classified as avulsions (52/150), and 15% were classified as nodes (23/150). Ninety percent of avulsions were subclassified as ''tidemark avulsions,'' a highly prevalent form of endplate irregularity in which the outer annulus separates from the vertebra at the tidemark. These tidemark avulsions have not been previously described, yet are visible on T2-weighted MRI as high-intensity regions. Conclusion. This study provides histologic basis for a system to classify focal endplate irregularities. Included is a previously unidentified but prevalent finding of tidemark avulsions, which are visible with both histology and magnetic resonance imaging. These observations will help clinicians better organize patients into meaningful groups to facilitate diagnosis, treatment, and clinical research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1095-1101
Number of pages7
Issue number16
StatePublished - 2018


  • Avulsion
  • Cartilage endplate
  • Diagnostics
  • Disc herniation
  • Disc-vertebra interface
  • Endplate irregularity
  • High-intensity zone
  • Highintensity regions
  • Histology
  • Low back pain
  • Lumbar spine
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Rim degeneration
  • Schmorl's nodes
  • Tidemark.


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