Nerve biopsy is typically performed in distal, noncritical sensory nerves without using imaging to target the more involved regions. The yield of these procedures rarely achieves more than 50%. In selected cases where preoperative evaluation points toward a more localized (usually a more proximal) process, targeted biopsy would likely capture the disease. Synthesis of data obtained from clinical examination, electrophysiological testing, and MRI allows biopsy of a portion of the major mixed nerves safely and efficiently. Herein, experiences with the sciatic nerve are reported and a description of the operative technique is provided.
All cases of sciatic nerve biopsy performed between 2000 and 2014 were reviewed. Only cases of fascicular nerve biopsy approached from the buttock or the posterior aspect of the thigh were included. Demographic data, clinical presentation, and the presence of percussion tenderness for each patient were recorded. Reviewed studies included electrodiagnostic tests and imaging. Previous nerve and muscle biopsies were noted. All details of the procedure, final pathology, and its treatment implications were recorded. The complication rate was carefully assessed for temporary as well as permanent complications.
One hundred twelve cases (63 men and 49 women) of sciatic nerve biopsy were performed. Mean patient age was 46.4 years. Seventy-seven (68.8%) patients presented with single lower-extremity symptoms, 16 (14.3%) with bilateral lower-extremity symptoms, and 19 (17%) with generalized symptoms. No patient had normal findings on physical examination. All patients underwent electrodiagnostic studies, the findings of which were abnormal in 110 (98.2%) patients. MRI was available for all patients and was read as pathological in 111 (99.1%). The overall diagnostic yield of biopsy was 84.8% (n = 95). The pathological diagnoses included inflammatory demyelination, perineurioma, nonspecific inflammatory changes, neurolymphomatosis, amyloidosis, prostate cancer, injury neuroma, neuromuscular choristoma, sarcoidosis, vasculitis, hemangiomatosis, arteriovenous malformation, fibrolipomatous hamartoma (lipomatosis of nerve), and cervical adenocarcinoma. The series included 11 (9.9%) temporary and 5 (4.5%) permanent complications: 3 patients (2.7%) reported permanent numbness in the peroneal division distribution, and 2 patients (1.8%) were diagnosed with neuromuscular choristoma that developed desmoid tumor at the biopsy site 3 and 8 years later.
Targeted fascicular biopsy of the sciatic nerve is a safe and efficient diagnostic procedure, and in highly selected cases can be offered as the initial procedure over distal cutaneous nerve biopsy. Diagnoses were very diverse and included entities considered very rare. Even for the more prevalent diagnoses, the biopsy technique allowed a more targeted approach with a higher diagnostic yield and justification for more aggressive treatment. In this series, new radiological patterns of some entities were identified, which could be biopsied less frequently.