A five-category grading scheme for assessing the gross morphology of midsagittal sections of the human lumbar intervetebral disc was developed. The ability of three observers to categorize a series of 68 discs with a wide spectrum of morphologies established the comprehensiveness of the classification. Three independent observers tested the reproducibility of the procedure by assignment of grades blindly to duplicate images of 68 discs taken from 15 spines. The intraobserver agreement ranged from 87 to 91%. The interobserver agreement was 61, 64, and 88% for the three pairs, the two low values being attributable to the bias of one observer. The agreement between the assigned and average grades was 85, 92, 68, 90, and 76% for Grades I through V, respectively. Except for Grade III, the disagreements were attributable mainly to the bias of one observer. Both the increase in the grade with age and the finding that all the discs within 14 of 15 spines had a narrow range of grades demonstrated the biologic credibility of the scheme.
intervertebral disc; gross morphology; grading scheme