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Lumbarized Sacrum as a Relative Contraindication for Lateral Transpsoas Interbody Fusion at L5-6

D. Smith, William MD*,†,‡; Youssef, Jim A. MD§; Christian, Ginger BS*,‡; Serrano, Sherrie BS; Hyde, Jonathan A. MD

Journal of Spinal Disorders & Techniques: July 2012 - Volume 25 - Issue 5 - p 285–291
doi: 10.1097/BSD.0b013e31821e262f

Study Design Retrospective review.

Objective To determine if lumbarized sacra at the L5-6 level (functional L4-5) are a contraindication to a lateral transpsoas approach.

Summary of background Data Transitional vertebrae at the lumbosacral junction present mechanical and morphologic changes, though these changes have not been characterized with respect to the feasibility of a lateral transpsoas approach.

Methods Three hundred fifty-one patients were scheduled for lumbar interbody fusion using a mini-open lateral transpsoas approach (XLIF) at L4-5 from 2004 to 2008 at a single institution. In patients with 6 lumbar vertebrae, accessibility, based on neuromonitoring, of the L5-6 level (functional L4-5) was reviewed. Qualitative assessments using axial magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) were performed and compared with a sample of patients with normal anatomy treated at L4-5.

Results Of the 351 patients scheduled for treatment at L4-5, 10 (2.8%) were determined to have 6 lumbar vertebrae with the symptomatic level at L5-6. Of those 10, 2 (20%) could be treated using a lateral transpsoas approach, and 8 (80%) were converted to another approach after a corridor through the psoas muscle was not found, based on neuromonitoring feedback. Review of axial MRI showed a teardrop-shaped psoas detached from the lateral border of the disc space in patients with transitional anatomy unapproachable at L5-6, resemblant of L5-S1 in normal anatomy. In the 2 patients who could be safely approached, the psoas anatomy at L5-6 was similar to a normal L4-5 level, with a domed/helmet shape, attached laterally to the disc space.

Conclusions Treating the L5-6 level using a lateral transpsoas approach in individuals with lumbarized sacra can be challenging due to anatomy more similar to the L5-S1 level in normal patients. Preoperative planning using axial MRI and intraoperative adherence to advanced neuromonitoring can aid in identifying and avoiding injury in these rare patients.

*Western Regional Center for Brain and Spine Surgery

University Medical Center

NNI Research Foundation, Las Vegas, NV

§Durango Orthopedic Associates, P.C./Spine Colorado, Durango, CO

South Florida Spine Institute, Miami Beach, FL

Sources of support or funding (including NIH, Wellcome Trust, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and others): None.

Reprints: William D. Smith, MD, Neurosurgery, University Medical Center, 1800 W. Charleston, Las Vegas, NV 89102 (e-mail:

Received February 7, 2011

Accepted April 5, 2011

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.