A reliable measurement for identifying a lumbosacral transitional vertebra with a solid bony bridge on a single-slice midsagittal MRI or plain lateral radiograph

M. Farshad, A. Aichmair, A. P. Hughes, R. J. Herzog, N. A. Farshad-Amacker


The purpose of this study was to devise a simple but reliable radiological method of identifying a lumbosacral transitional vertebra (LSTV) with a solid bony bridge on sagittal MRI, which could then be applied to a lateral radiograph.

The vertical mid-vertebral angle (VMVA) and the vertical anterior vertebral angle (VAVA) of the three most caudal segments of the lumbar spine were measured on MRI and/or on a lateral radiograph in 92 patients with a LSTV and 94 controls, and the differences per segment (Diff-VMVA and Diff-VAVA) were calculated. The Diff-VMVA of the two most caudal vertebrae was significantly higher in the control group (25° (sd 8) than in patients with a LSTV (type 2a+b: 16° (sd 9), type 3a+b: -9° (sd 10), type 4: -5° (sd 7); p < 0.001). A Diff-VMVA of ≤ +10° identified a LSTV with a solid bony bridge (type 3+4) with a sensitivity of 100% and a specificity of 89% on MRI and a sensitivity of 94% and a specificity of 74% on a lateral radiograph. A sensitivity of 100% could be achieved with a cut-off value of 28° for the Diff-VAVA, but with a lower specificity (76%) on MRI than with Diff-VMVA.

Using this simple method (Diff-VMVA ≤ +10°), solid bony bridging of the posterior elements of a LSTV, and therefore the first adjacent mobile segment, can be easily identified without the need for additional imaging.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2013;95-B:1533–7.


  • No benefits in any form have been received or will be received from a commercial party related directly or indirectly to the subject of this article.

    This article was primary edited by A. Ross and first-proof edited by G. Scott.

  • Received May 8, 2013.
  • Accepted July 18, 2013.
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