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Matthew D. Bucknor, Lynne S. Steinbach, David Saloner and Cynthia T. Chin

Object

Extraspinal sciatica can present unique challenges in clinical diagnosis and management. In this study, the authors evaluated qualitative and quantitative patterns of sciatica-related pathology at the ischial tuberosity on MR neurography (MRN) studies performed for chronic extraspinal sciatica.

Methods

Lumbosacral MRN studies obtained in 14 patients at the University of California, San Francisco between 2007 and 2011 were retrospectively reviewed. The patients had been referred by neurosurgeons or neurologists for chronic unilateral sciatica (≥ 3 months), and the MRN reports described asymmetrical increased T2 signal within the sciatic nerve at the level of the ischial tuberosity. MRN studies were also performed prospectively in 6 healthy volunteers. Sciatic nerve T2 signal intensity (SI) and cross-sectional area at the ischial tuberosity were calculated and compared between the 2 sides in all 20 subjects. The same measurements were also performed at the sciatic notch as an internal reference. Adjacent musculoskeletal pathology was compared between the 2 sides in all subjects.

Results

Seven of the 9 patients for whom detailed histories were available had a specific history of injury or trauma near the proximal hamstring preceding the onset of sciatica. Eight of the 14 patients also demonstrated soft-tissue abnormalities adjacent to the proximal hamstring origin. The remaining 6 had normal muscles, tendons, and marrow in the region of the ischial tuberosity. There was a significant difference in sciatic nerve SI and size between the symptomatic and asymptomatic sides at the level of the ischial tuberosity, with a mean adjusted SI of 1.38 compared with 1.00 (p < 0.001) and a mean cross-sectional nerve area of 0.66 versus 0.54 cm2 (p = 0.002). The control group demonstrated symmetrical adjusted SI and sciatic nerve size.

Conclusions

This study suggests that chronic sciatic neuropathy can be seen at the ischial tuberosity in the setting of prior proximal hamstring tendon injury or adjacent soft-tissue abnormalities. Because hamstring tendon injury as a cause of chronic sciatica remains a diagnosis of exclusion, this distinct category of patients has not been described in the radiographic literature and merits special attention from clinicians and radiologists in the management of extraspinal sciatica. Magnetic resonance neurography is useful for evaluating chronic sciatic neuropathy both qualitatively and quantitatively, particularly in patients for whom electromyography and traditional MRI studies are unrevealing.