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A Review of Symptomatic Lumbosacral Transitional Vertebrae: Bertolotti’s Syndrome

Jeffrey M. Jancuska, BA,1 Jeffrey M. Spivak, MD,2 John A. Bendo, MD2

1New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA 2Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Hospital for Joint Diseases, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA

Abstract

Background

Lumbosacral transitional vertebrae (LSTV) are increasingly recognized as a common anatomical variant associated with altered patterns of degenerative spine changes. This review will focus on the clinical significance of LSTV, disruptions in normal spine biomechanics, imaging techniques, diagnosis, and treatment.

Methods

A Pubmed search using the specific key words "LSTV," "lumbosacral transitional vertebrae," and "Bertolotti's Syndrome" was performed. The resulting group of manuscripts from our search was evaluated.

Results

LSTV are associated with alterations in biomechanics and anatomy of spinal and paraspinal structures, which have important implications on surgical approaches and techniques. LSTV are often inaccurately detected and classified on standard AP radiographs and MRI. The use of whole-spine images as well as geometric relationships between the sacrum and lumbar vertebra increase accuracy. Uncertainty regarding the cause, clinical significance, and treatment of LSTV persists. Some authors suggest an association between LSTV types II and IV and low back pain. Pseudoarticulation between the transverse process and the sacrum creates a "false joint" susceptible to arthritic changes and osteophyte formation potentially leading to nerve root entrapment.

The diagnosis of symptomatic LSTV is considered with appropriate patient history, imaging studies, and diagnostic injections. A positive radionuclide study along with a positive effect from a local injection helps distinguish the transitional vertebra as a significant pain source. Surgical resection is reserved for a subgroup of LSTV patients who fail conservative treatment and whose pain is definitively attributed to the anomalous pseudoarticulation.

Conclusions

Due to the common finding of low back pain and the wide prevalence of LSTV in the general population, it is essential to differentiate between symptoms originating from an anomalous psuedoarticulation from other potential sources of low back pain. Further studies with larger sample sizes and longer follow-up time would better demonstrate the effectiveness of surgical resection and help guide treatment.

keywords: 
LSTV, Bertolotti’s Syndrome, transitional vertebrae
Volume 9 Article 42
doi: 
10.14444/2042