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Spine J. 2013 Aug;13(8):837-42. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2013.02.067. Epub 2013 Apr 3.

Does the presence of the nerve root sedimentation sign on MRI correlate with the operative level in patients undergoing posterior lumbar decompression for lumbar stenosis?

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, NYU Langone Medical Center, 301 East 17th St, Suite 400, New York, NY 10003, USA.



Recent research describes the use of a nerve root sedimentation sign to diagnose lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS). The lack of sedimentation of the nerve roots (positive sedimentation sign) to the dorsal part of the dural sac is the characteristic feature of this new radiological parameter.


To demonstrate how the nerve root sedimentation sign compares with other more traditional radiological parameters in patients who have been operated for LSS.


A retrospective chart and image review.


Preoperative magnetic resonance images (MRIs) were reviewed from 71 consecutive operative patients who presented with LSS and received spinal decompression surgery from 2006 to 2010.


Preoperative T2-weighted MRIs were reviewed for each patient.


One hundred thirty-four vertebral levels from L1 to L5 were measured for: sedimentation sign, cross-sectional area (CSA) and anterior/posterior (A/P) diameter of the dural sac, thickness of the ligamentum flavum, and Fujiwara grade of facet hypertrophy. Radiological measurements were made using Surgimap software (Nemaris, Inc., New York, NY, USA). Statistical analyses were performed using the SPSS 17.0 statistical software (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). Significance was demonstrated using unpaired t tests and chi-squared tests. Study funding was departmental. There were no study-specific conflicts of interest-associated biases.


A positive sedimentation sign was determined in 120 operated levels (89.5%), whereas 14 levels (10.5%) had no sign (negative sedimentation sign). The mean CSA and A/P diameter were 140.62 mm(2) (standard deviation [SD]=53) and 11.76 mm (SD=3), respectively, for the no-sign group; the mean CSA and A/P diameter were 81.87 mm(2) (SD=35) and 8.76 mm (SD=2.2), respectively, for the sedimentation sign group (p<.001). We found that 60% of levels with Fujiwara Grade A facet hypertrophy did not have a sedimentation sign, whereas 86.3% of levels with Grade B, 93.2% of levels with Grade C, and 100.0% of levels with Grade D did have a sedimentation sign (p<.001).


The sedimentation sign is a new measurement tool that can enable physicians to objectively assess and quantify spinal stenosis. The sign is most often present in patients who have clinically significant lumbar stenosis and require surgery.


Dural sac; Lumbar spinal stenosis; Preoperative; Radiological parameters; Sedimentation sign

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