One hundred lumbar intervertebral foramina from eighteen spines of fresh cadavera were studied to assess the relationship between compression of the nerve root and the height of the intervertebral disc and the morphological characteristics of the intervertebral foramen as determined on cryomicrotome sections. The critical posterior disc height and the critical foraminal height that were associated with entrapment and compression of the nerve root were determined.
Significant positive correlations were demonstrated between compression of the nerve root and the posterior disc height, the foraminal height, and the foraminal cross-sectional area for the four intervertebral levels between the second lumbar and first sacral vertebrae. Nerve-root compression was evident in twenty-one of the 100 foramina, in eight of the ten foramina in which the posterior disc height was four millimeters or less, and in four of the five foramina in which the foraminal height was fifteen millimeters or less.
These critical dimensions may be indicators of foraminal stenosis in the lumbar spine.However, compression of a spinal nerve root does not always cause sciatica, and the clinical findings must always be taken into account when a diagnosis of stenosis is considered.