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Tohoku J Exp Med. 2017 Jul;242(3):223-228. doi: 10.1620/tjem.242.223.

Lumbosacral Transitional Vertebrae Cause Spinal Level Misconception in Surgeries for Degenerative Lumbar Spine Disorders.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Sendai Orthopaedic Hospital.
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Graduate School of Medicine, Tohoku University.
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Tohoku Central Hospital.
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Sendai City Hospital.


Human lumbar spine usually consists of five vertebrae; however, some individuals have vertebral anomalies with four or six lumbar vertebrae because of sacralized fifth lumbar vertebra (L5 sacralization) or lumbarized first sacral vertebra (S1 lumbarization), respectively. These vertebral anomalies are called lumbosacral transitional vertebra (LSTV). Although LSTV is an asymptomatic anomaly, it is known to cause misconception in spinal counts and in spinal level at lumbar spinal surgery. The purpose of this study is to evaluate how LSTV affects the diagnosis and surgeries in lumbar spine disorders. In 550 consecutive patients who underwent lumbar spinal surgeries, a whole-spine X-ray was taken on admission to assess the true number of lumbar vertebrae. We assessed the coherence between the neurological level diagnosis and the level of spinal canal stenosis on imaging studies before and after the recognition of LSTV to clarify how recognition of LSTV affected pre-operative surgical planning. Out of 550 patients, LSTV was found in 71 (12.9%) patients: 37 cases with L5 sacralization and 34 cases with S1 lumbarization. The number of vertebrae was miscounted at the outpatient department (OPD) in 38 cases (54%): 10 L5-sacralization cases and 28 S1-lumbarization cases. Moreover, surgical spinal levels were altered from the original surgical plans at OPD in 11 cases (15%; 3 L5-sacralization and 8 S1-lumbarization cases), after recognizing the true spinal counts by the whole spine X-ray. To avoid errors in spinal level diagnosis, we should recognize the possibility of LSTV that could be assessed by a whole spine X-ray.


Castellvi’s classification; lumbosacral transitional vertebra; misconception; spinal counts; whole-spine AP X-ray

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