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Ten Percent of Patients with Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis Have Variations in the Number of Thoracic or Lumbar Vertebrae

Ibrahim, David A. BA; Myung, Karen S. MD, PhD; Skaggs, David L. MD

Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery - American Volume: 1 May 2013 - Volume 95 - Issue 9 - p 828–833
doi: 10.2106/JBJS.L.00461
Scientific Articles

Background: Surveys have demonstrated that wrong-site surgery of the spine is performed by up to 50% of spine surgeons over the course of a career. Inaccurate identification of appropriate vertebral levels is a common reason for wrong-site spine surgery. The present study examined the prevalence of variations in the number of vertebrae in patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.

Methods: A retrospective review of radiographs and reports of 364 consecutive patients undergoing operative treatment for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis at a single center was performed. The study included eighty-eight male patients (24%) and 276 female patients (76%) with a mean age of fourteen years (range, ten to twenty years). Radiographs were reviewed to assess the number of thoracic and lumbar vertebrae and the presence of a lumbosacral transitional vertebra.

Results: Ten percent of the patients (thirty-eight) had an atypical number of vertebrae in the thoracic and/or lumbar spine. Twenty-one patients (5.8%) had an atypical number of thoracic vertebrae, with fourteen having eleven thoracic vertebrae and seven patients having thirteen. Twenty-four patients (6.6%) had an atypical number of lumbar vertebrae, with four having four lumbar vertebrae and twenty patients having six. A lumbosacral transitional vertebra was present in 6.3% (twenty-three) of the patients. Multilevel vertebral anomalies were present in 1.9% of the patients (seven of 364). A variation in the number of vertebrae had been identified in 0.5% (two) of the reports by the radiologist.

Conclusions: Variations in the number of thoracic or lumbar vertebrae were found in 10% of patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis but had been identified in only 0.5% of the radiology reports.

Clinical Relevance: Assessment of possible variations in the number of vertebrae is important to help avoid surgery at the wrong vertebral level.

1Children’s Orthopaedic Center, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, 4650 Sunset Boulevard, Mailstop 69, Los Angeles, CA 90027. E-mail address for D.L. Skaggs:

Copyright 2013 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Incorporated
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