Radiographic Analysis of Psoas Morphology and its Association With Neurovascular Structures at L4-5 With Reference to Lateral Approaches

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Study Design.

Retrospective imaging review.


Utilize magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to expand the anatomical description of psoas morphology and its association with neurovascular structures at L4-5.

Summary of Background Data.

Anatomical psoas muscle variants may present a greater risk of neurovascular injury at the L4-5 level during lateral transpsoas approaches.


Axial L4-5 sections of consecutive patients who obtained lumbar MRIs were analyzed. Teardrop psoas morphology was assessed qualitatively. MRI described psoas morphology and proximity of neurovascular structures, whereas plain radiographs were evaluated for lumbosacral transitional vertebrae (LSTV). Teardrop morphology was tested for associations with radiographic measurements using t tests and χ2 analysis.


Fifty teardrop and 476 nonteardrop psoas muscles were identified. Teardrop morphology was associated with greater longitudinal length (53.1 vs. 49.3 mm, P = 0.012), and shorter transverse length (34.9 vs. 44.8 mm, P < 0.001) compared with nonteardrop. Teardrop morphology was associated with anterior and lateral migration of the psoas with greater distance between the anterior borders of the psoas and disc (13.5 vs. 6.3 mm, P < 0.001), and greater distance between the medial border of the psoas to the lateral disc border (1.6 vs. 0.5 mm, P < 0.001). Teardrop morphology was associated with a higher incidence of the lumbar plexus migrating anteriorly adjacent to the middle-third of the disc (43.4% vs. 17.6%, P < 0.001) and the iliac vasculature being more laterally and posteriorly located, adjacent to the anterior-third of the disc (43.4% vs. 30.0%, P = 0.047). Teardrop morphology was not associated with presence of LSTV (3.8% vs. 7.6%, P = 0.306).


The current study provides detailed metrics of teardrop psoas muscles and surrounding structures. The study confirms that the presence of teardrop anatomy on L4-5 axial imaging is associated with anterior migration of the lumbar plexus and posterolateral migration of the iliac vasculature which may increase the risk of neurovascular injury during direct and oblique-lateral lumbar spine procedures.


Level of Evidence: 3

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