Previous reports have focused on the complications of L5 nerve root injury caused by anterolateral misplacement of the S1 pedicle screws. Anatomical knowledge of the L5 nerve root in the pelvis is essential for safe and effective placement of the sacral screw. This cadaveric study aimed to investigate the course of the L5 nerve root in the pelvis and to clarify a safe zone for inserting the sacral screw.
Fifty-four L5 nerve roots located bilaterally in 27 formalin-fixed cadavers were studied. The ventral rami of the L5 nerve roots were dissected along their courses from the intervertebral foramina to the lesser pelvis. The running angles of the L5 nerve roots from the centerline were measured in the coronal plane. In addition, the distances from the ala of the sacrum to the L5 nerve roots were measured in the sagittal plane.
The authors found that the running angles of the L5 nerve roots changed at the most anterior surface of the ala of the sacrum. The angles of the bilateral L5 nerve roots from the right and left L5 intervertebral foramina to their inflection points were 13.77° ± 5.01° and 14.65° ± 4.71°, respectively. The angles of the bilateral L5 nerve roots from the right and left inflection points to the lesser pelvis were 19.66° ± 6.40° and 20.58° ± 5.78°, respectively. There were no significant differences between the angles measured in the right and left nerve roots. The majority of the L5 nerves coursed outward after changing their angles at the inflection point. The distances from the ala of the sacrum to the L5 nerve roots in the sagittal plane were less than 1 mm in all cases, which indicated that the L5 nerve roots were positioned close to the ala of the sacrum and had poor mobility.
All of the L5 nerve roots coursed outward after exiting the intervertebral foramina and never inward. To prevent iatrogenic L5 nerve root injury, surgeons should insert the S1 pedicle screw medially with an angle > 0° toward the inside of the S1 anterior foramina and the sacral alar screw laterally with an angle > 30°.