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J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2005 May;87(5):687-91.

Intervertebral disc degeneration associated with lumbosacral transitional vertebrae: a clinical and anatomical study.

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  • 1Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Chousei Hospital, Mobara-City, Chiba 299-4114, Japan.


We studied 52 patients, each with a lumbosacral transitional vertebra. Using MRI we found that the lumbar discs immediately above the transitional vertebra were significantly more degenerative and those between the transitional vertebrae and the sacrum were significantly less degenerative compared with discs at other levels. We also performed an anatomical study using 70 cadavers. We found that the iliolumbar ligament at the level immediately above the transitional vertebra was thinner and weaker than it was in cadavers without a lumbosacral transitional vertebra. Instability of the vertebral segment above the transitional vertebra because of a weak iliolumbar ligament could lead to subsequent disc degeneration which may occur earlier than at other disc levels. Some stability between the transitional vertebra and the sacrum could be preserved by the formation of either an articulation or by bony union between the vertebra and the sacrum through its transverse process. This may protect the disc from further degeneration in the long term.

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