Disc osteophyte complex

Last revised by Frank Gaillard on 18 Jan 2024

Disc osteophyte complex is a term used to describe the combination of disc displacement (bulge or herniation) with marginal endplate osteophytes resulting in narrowing of the spinal canal 3.


The term was introduced early in the practice of MRI as distinguishing between disc and osteophyte can be difficult or impossible on T2-weighted images. Thin gradient echo images are, however, often able to distinguish between disc (which is relatively bright) and osteophyte (which is relatively dark) and in such cases, it has been argued that using the term should be avoided, as the distinction is of surgical importance 1.

Others have suggested that the term is useful in so far as it is difficult when faced with a dark band of tissue extending along the posterior aspect of the disc to distinguish between various components of disc degeneration (marginal osteophyte, bulging annular fibers, disc herniation, and ossification of posterior longitudinal ligament) 2. In other words, when high T2 disc herniation is not visualized then it is uncertain what contributes to the disc osteophyte complex. 

Importantly, the term should never be used in the lumbar spine, nor should it be used to describe uncovertebral osteophytic narrowing of neural exit foramina 2

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