Variation in the number of lumbar vertebrae occurs in a small portion of the population. Either the fifth lumbar vertebra shows assimilation to the sacrum or the first sacral vertebra shows a lumbar configuration, resulting in 4 or 6 lumbar vertebrae, respectively. Etiologically, lumbar nerve root syndrome is diagnosed by comparing the anatomical level of the disc herniation to the compressed nerve root and to the pattern of the peripheral sensory and motor deficit. In case of a variation in the number of lumbar vertebrae, defining the lumbar nerve roots becomes difficult. Variations in the number of lumbar vertebrae make the landmarks (the twelfth rib and the first sacral vertebra) unreliable clues to define the nerve roots. The allocation of the clinically damaged segment to the spinal disorder seen in imaging studies is essential for differential diagnosis and spine surgery.
A retrospective study was conducted of clinical, electrophysiological, and imaging data among inpatients over a period of 21 months. Eight patients who had isolated monosegmental discogenic nerve root compression and a variation in the number of lumbar vertebrae were selected.
Seven patients presented with 6 lumbar vertebrae, and 1 patient presented with 4 lumbar vertebrae and disc herniation on 1 of the 2 caudal levels. Compression of the second-to-last nerve root in patients with 6 lumbar vertebrae resulted either in clinical L-5 or S-1 syndrome, or a combination of both. Compression of the last caudal nerve root resulted in a clinical S-1 nerve root syndrome.
The findings suggest that the dermatomyotomal supply of the lumbosacral nerve roots can vary in patients with a variation in the number of lumbar vertebrae, and a meticulous clinical, radiological, and electrophysiological examination is essential.
Abbreviations used in this paper: AP = anteroposterior; EMG = electromyography.