Bertolotti's syndrome consists of low-back pain caused by lumbosacral transitional vertebrae (LSTVs) and LSTV-associated biomechanical spinal changes. There is a lack of consensus regarding the cause, clinical significance, and treatment of this condition. The authors aim to characterize the clinical presentation of patients with Bertolotti's syndrome and describe a minimally invasive surgical treatment for this condition.
Seven patients who underwent minimally invasive paramedian tubular-based resection of the LSTV for Bertolotti's syndrome were identified over the course of 5 years. Diagnosis was based on patient history of chronic low-back pain, radiographic findings of LSTV, and pain relief on trigger-site injection with steroid and/or anesthetics. Electronic medical records were reviewed to identify demographics, operative data, and outcomes.
All patients presented with severe, chronic low-back pain lasting an average of 8 years that was resistant to nonoperative care. At presentation, 6 (86%) of 7 patients experienced radicular pain that was ipsilateral to the LSTV. Radiographic evidence showed a presence of LSTV in all patients on the left (43%), right (29%), or bilaterally (29%). Degenerative disc changes at the L4–5 level immediately above the anomalous LSTV were observed in 6 of 7 (86%) patients; these changes were not seen at the level below the LSTV. Following pseudo-joint injection, all patients experienced temporary relief of their symptoms. All patients underwent a minimally invasive, paramedian tubular-based approach for resection of the LSTV. Three (43%) of 7 patients reported complete resolution of low-back pain, 2 (29%) of 7 patients had reduced low-back pain, and 2 patients (29%) experienced initial relief but return of low-back pain at 1 and 4 years postoperatively. Three (50%) of the 6 patients with radicular pain had complete relief of this symptom. The median follow-up time was 12 months. No intraoperative complication was reported. Two (29%) of 7 patients developed postoperative complications including one with a wound hematoma and another with new L-5 radiculopathy that resolved 2 years after surgery.
Diagnosis of Bertolotti's syndrome should be considered with adequate patient history, imaging studies, and diagnostic injections. A minimally invasive surgical approach for resection of the LSTV is presented here for symptomatic treatment of select patients with Bertolotti's syndrome whose conditions are refractory to conventional therapy and who have pain that can be attributed to the LSTV. Several short-term complications were noted with this procedure, but overall this procedure is effective for treating symptoms related to Bertolotti's syndrome.