Justin G. R. Fletcher, Mark D. Stringer, Christopher A. Briggs, Tilman M. Davies, Stephanie J. Woodley

October 2015, Volume 24, Issue 10, pp 2321 - 2329 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-015-3925-y

First Online: 11 April 2015


Despite being commonly affected by degenerative disorders, there are few data on normal thoracic intervertebral disc dimensions. A morphometric analysis of adult thoracic intervertebral discs was, therefore, undertaken.


Archival computed tomography scans of 128 recently deceased individuals (70 males, 58 females, 20–79 years) with no known spinal pathology were analysed to determine thoracic disc morphometry and variations with disc level, sex and age. Reliability was assessed by intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs).


Anterior and posterior intervertebral disc heights and axial dimensions were significantly greater in men (anterior disc height 4.0 ± 1.4 vs 3.6 ± 1.3 mm; posterior disc height 3.6 ± 0.90 vs 3.4 ± 0.93 mm; p < 0.01). Disc heights and axial dimensions at T4-5 were similar or smaller than at T2-3, but thereafter increased caudally (mean anterior disc height T4-5 and T10-11, 2.7 ± 0.7 and 5.4 ± 1.2 mm, respectively, in men; 2.6 ± 0.8 and 5.1 ± 1.3 mm, respectively, in women; p < 0.05). Except at T2-3, anterior disc height decreased with advancing age and anteroposterior and transverse disc dimensions increased; posterior and middle disc heights and indices of disc shape showed no consistent statistically significant changes. Most parameters showed substantial to almost perfect agreement for intra- and inter-rater reliability.


Thoracic disc morphometry varies significantly and consistently with disc level, sex and age. This study provides unique reference data on adult thoracic intervertebral disc morphometry, which may be useful when interpreting pathological changes and for future biomechanical and functional studies.

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