Plain radiographs can be useful in estimating lumbar bone density

B. A. Michel, Nancy E Lane, H. H. Jones, J. F. Fries, D. A. Bloch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


On standard lateral roentgenograms of the lumbar spine, a decrease in bone density is said to be detectable only after a bone loss of about 40%. To evaluate this view, we compared findings on plain films with bone mineral content of L1 determined by quantitative computed tomography in 80 healthy subjects with a mean age of 60 years. The highest correlations with bone mineral content were found for the criteria 'vertebral density versus soft tissue' (r = 0.5, p < 0.0001), the 'amount of trabeculations' (r = 0.49, p < 0.0001), and for the 'overall' estimate of osteopenia in the vertebra (r = 0.55, p < 0.0001). Surprisingly, these three radiographic criteria proved to be most helpful in subjects with bone mineral content above 110 mg/cm3 (nonosteoporotic range). We conclude that lateral radiographs of the lumbar spine can provide a rough estimate of bone density in nonosteoporotic subjects which may be helpful in determining when further analysis with more precise methods is appropriate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)528-531
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Rheumatology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes


  • bone density
  • osteoporosis
  • radiography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Rheumatology


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