Article Abstract

Morphometric anatomy of the lumbar sympathetic trunk with respect to the anterolateral approach to lumbar interbody fusion: a cadaver study

Authors: Gareth Rutter, Kevin Phan, Adam Smith, Fiona Stewart, Kevin Seex, Cristian Gragnaniello


Background: An approach to lateral lumbar interbody fusion (LLIF) utilizing an oblique corridor anterior to the psoas muscle was first described by Mayer in 1997 and subsequently by other authors. The only consistent structure of note in this corridor is the lumbar sympathetic trunk (LST), which at times must be mobilized in order to perform a discectomy and interbody fusion, thereby placing the LST at risk. This study was designed to describe the morphometric anatomy of the LST in relation to surgically relevant landmarks for the anterolateral approach to the lumbar spine at L3/L4 to L5/S1.
Methods: Twenty-four embalmed cadavers (13 males, 11 females, age range, 50–89) were dissected to expose the LST. Bilateral measurements were recorded using a calliper under direct visualization, using the midsagittal plane of the lumbar spine as the reference landmark. The points were then marked with radio-opaque needles, and 14 cadavers were scanned with CT to validate the measurements.
Results: Of 48 LSTs, there was minimal difference in the direction of its course between sides; 14/24 specimens had concordant directions. The majority (n=28) had a medial to lateral cephalocaudal course. If osteophytes were present at the L4/L5 level, the majority of LSTs (n=7, of 8) were displaced lateral to the osteophyte. At the L5/S1 level, half of the cases with osteophytes (n=3, of 6) stretched the LST over the top of the osteophyte. The LST was adherent to the L4/L5 disc space bilaterally in 93% of cases.
Conclusions: With the development of lumbar fusion techniques which utilize an oblique corridor and the retraction of psoas muscle, LST has become an important neural structure to define, protect and mobilize. In our morphometric analysis of 24 specimens, the position has been identified and quantified, and this paper notes variations, particularly distortions caused by degenerative processes. In this study, the LST ran in a medial to lateral direction from L3 to S1, and osteophytes typically displace and adhere to the LST.