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Cerebrospinal fluid volume and nerve root vulnerability during lumbar puncture or spinal anaesthesia at different vertebral levels

Laboratory of Surgical NeuroAnatomy, Human Anatomy and Embryology Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain


Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and nerve root volumes within the lumbosacral dural sac were estimated at various vertebral levels, in an attempt to determine any possible relevance to the incidence of nerve root trauma during lumbar puncture or spinal anaesthesia. Magnetic resonance images from seven patients were studied. Volumes were calculated by semi-automatic threshold segmentation combined with manual editing of each slice. The mean dural sac volume from S1 to T12 was 42.8±5.8 ml and the mean CSF volume 34.3±5.1 ml with the mean root volume being 10.4±2.2 cm3. The mean CSF volume per vertebral segment ranged from 4.3±0.7 ml at L5, to 5.8±2.5 ml at L1, with high inter-individual variability. The mean root volume ranged from 0.6±0.1 cm3 at L5 to 2.4±0.5 cm3 at T12.
The conus medullaris was located at L1 in four of the five patients scanned at upper lumbar levels, and at the lower border of L2 in the other. Vulnerability to nerve root damage was expressed as the Vulnerability Index (%), being defined as the ratio of root volume to dural sac volume (CSF volume + root volume). The value ranged between 7 and 14% at L5, increasing rostrally to 30 to 43% at T12. Caution is obviously required in high punctures to avoid contact with the conus medullaris, but the cauda equina is also vulnerable to contact with more caudal punctures and had a Vulnerability Index of about 25% at L4, that increased rostrally.

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