We carried out a cadaver study of 16 iliolumbar veins in order to define the surgical anatomy. Two variants were found; a single vein at a mean distance of 3.74 cm from the inferior vena cava (11 of 16) and two separate draining veins at a mean distance from the vena cava of 2.98 cm for the proximal and 6.24 cm for the distal stem (5 of 16). Consistently, the proximal vein tore on attempted medial retraction of the great vessels. The mean length of the vein was 1.6 cm and its mean width 1.07 cm. Three stems were shorter than 0.5 cm. Two or more tributaries usually drained the iliacus and psoas muscles, and the fifth lumbar vertebral body. The obturator nerve crossed all veins superficially at a mean of 2.76 cm lateral to the mouth. In four of these, this distance was less than 1.5 cm. Usually, the lumbosacral trunk crossed deep, at a mean distance of 2.5 cm lateral to the mouth, but in three veins, this distance was 1 cm or less.

Our findings emphasise the need for proper dissection of the iliolumbar vein before ligature during exposure of the anterior lumbar spine.

  • Received January 30, 2002.
  • Accepted March 25, 2002.