Bertolotti syndrome is a clinical diagnosis given to patients with low-back pain arising from a lumbosacral transitional vertebra (LSTV). While biomechanical studies have demonstrated abnormal torques and range of motion occurring at and above this type of LSTV, the long-term effects of these biomechanical changes on the LSTV adjacent segments are not well understood. This study examined degenerative changes at segments superjacent to the LSTV in patients with Bertolotti syndrome.
This study involved a retrospective comparison of patients between 2010 and 2020 with an LSTV and chronic back pain (Bertolotti syndrome) and control patients with chronic back pain with no LSTV. The presence of an LSTV was confirmed on imaging, and the caudal-most mobile segment above the LSTV was assessed for degenerative changes. Degenerative changes were assessed by grading the intervertebral disc, facets, degree of spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis using well documented grading systems. All computations were performed in R, version 4.1.0. All tests were two-sided, and p values < 0.05 was considered statistically significant. Separate logistic regression analyses were run with the associated dependent variables for each aim, with age at MRI and sex included as covariates. Odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals were computed.
A total of 172 patients were included, 101 with Bertolotti syndrome and 71 controls. Control patients consisted of patients with low-back pain but no diagnosis of Bertolotti syndrome or an LSTV. Fifty-six Bertolotti (55.4%) and 27 control (38.0%) patients were female, (p = 0.03). After adjusting for age at MRI and sex, Bertolotti patients had pelvic incidence (PI) that was 9.83° greater than control patients (95% CI 5.15°–14.50°, p < 0.001). Sacral slope was not significantly different between the Bertolotti and control groups (beta estimate 3.10°, 95% CI −1.07° to 7.27°; p = 0.14). Bertolotti patients had 2.69 times higher odds of having a high disc grade at L4–5 (3–4 vs 0–2), compared with control patients (OR 2.69, 95% CI 1.28–5.90; p = 0.01). There were no significant differences between Bertolotti patients and controls for spondylolisthesis, facet grade, or spinal stenosis grade.
Patients with Bertolotti syndrome had a significantly higher PI and were more likely to have adjacent-segment disease (ASD; L4–5) compared with control patients. However, after controlling for age and sex, PI and ASD did not appear to have a significant association within the cohort of Bertolotti patients. The altered biomechanics and kinematics in this condition may be a causative factor in this degeneration, although proof of causation is not possible in this study. This association may warrant closer follow-up protocols for patients being treated for Bertolotti syndrome, but further prospective studies are needed to establish if radiographic parameters can serve as an indicator for biomechanical alterations in vivo.