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Sono-anatomy of The Lumbar Spine - Dr Debjyoti Dutta MD. FIPP. POCUS(MSK)

Sono-anatomy of The Lumbar Spine - Dr Debjyoti Dutta MD. FIPP. POCUS(MSK)

Introduction and Anatomy of Lumbar Spine :

Ultrasonography has emerged as an invaluable tool in the field of medical imaging, offering real-time visualization of anatomical structures with minimal invasiveness. In the context of spinal imaging, particularly the lumbar spine, ultrasound presents unique opportunities and challenges. While traditional imaging modalities such as MRI and CT scans remain prevalent, ultrasound holds promise for its portability, cost-effectiveness, and absence of ionizing radiation.

However, effective utilization of ultrasound in lumbar spine imaging necessitates a comprehensive understanding of its sono-anatomy. Unlike other regions of the body, visualizing deep structures within the spine through ultrasound requires adeptness in identifying acoustic windows – areas where ultrasound waves can penetrate effectively. Moreover, the success of lumbar spine sonography is intricately linked to individual patient factors, notably body mass index (BMI), and the diverse tissue properties that significantly influence echogenicity. The lumbar spine anatomy shows that this part of the spine is particularly suitable for examination using ultrasound (US), especially in its transverse processes (TPs). These TPs are thin and long, usually pointing sideways. They are located in front of the articular processes (APs), with their back surface facing backwards, making them easily visible on ultrasound.

One interesting feature is the TP of the L5 vertebra, which is notably large. Unlike other TPs, the L5 TP is very strong, making it easy to see on ultrasound. Its lower edge usually extends down to at least the level of the intervertebral disc, making it stand out clearly. Additionally, the upper edge of the L5 TP often appears thicker, sometimes even extending downwards, which helps in its identification during ultrasound examinations.

In practical terms, while TPs at the L4 level may sometimes be short and thin, the L5 TP is a noticeable exception due to its strength and size.

The laminae, which are the flat plates of bone that form the back part of the vertebral arch, play a significant role in lumbar spine anatomy. Unlike other parts of the spine, such as the vertebral bodies, the width of the laminae, especially between the L1 to L4 levels, is notably narrower. This characteristic allows for a considerable portion of the vertebral bodies and the dorsal aspects of the intervertebral discs to be visible from a dorsal view during imaging.

One notable feature is that the laminae do not overlap, leaving a distinct interlaminar space. This lack of overlap provides clarity in imaging and allows for better visualization of the structures within the spine.

Moreover, there is a discernible narrowing, often referred to as a waist, between the superior and inferior articular processes, particularly at the interarticular part. This waist serves as a marker indicating the level and position of the lumbar dorsal root ganglia (DRG), crucial for understanding spinal anatomy and pathology.

The orientation of the laminae varies at different levels of the lumbar spine. Specifically, the laminae face posteriorly from L1 to L3, posteriorly and slightly upwards at the L4 level, and more upwards at the L5 level. Understanding these variations in orientation is essential for accurate interpretation of imaging studies and clinical assessments in lumbar spine pathology.

 

The lumbar zygapophysial joints (LZJ), also known as facet joints, play a crucial role in the lumbar spine's movement and stability. Understanding their anatomy is essential for diagnosing and managing spinal conditions.

The inferior articular processes (AP) of the lumbar spine are primarily convex and face laterally, while the superior APs are concave and face medially. This distinct orientation results in joint gaps being most clearly visible in a posterior view, allowing for an accurate assessment of their alignment and integrity.

Moreover, the spinous processes in the lumbar spine are notably massive and rectangular, oriented sagittally along the spine. This structural configuration provides crucial support and stability to the lumbar vertebrae, contributing to the spine's overall function and movement.

 

Sono-anatomy of the Lumbar Spine

It's important to keep in mind several key points when performing ultrasound imaging of the lumbar spine:

  1. Bony Surfaces: Bony structures appear as hyperechoic (white) linear structures on ultrasound. They produce dense acoustic shadowing (black) beneath them, which can completely obscure deeper structures such as ligaments, connective tissue structures, and fascial membranes.

  2. Connective Tissue Structures: Ligaments and fascial membranes also appear hyperechoic due to their acoustic impedance being less than bone. This allows for the imaging of deeper structures.

  3. Fat and Fluid: Fat and fluid have very low acoustic impedance and thus appear hypoechoic (dark) on ultrasound.

In terms of preparation:

  • Positioning: The lateral decubitus or sitting position (prone) is preferred.

  • Probe: A curved-array, low-frequency (2–5 MHz) probe is recommended for its wide field of view and deeper penetration. There are three basic orientations of the ultrasound probe and beam:

  • Paramedian Sagittal (PS): The beam is oriented in the sagittal plane of the spine, lateral to the median (midline) sagittal plane.

  • Paramedian Sagittal Oblique (PS Oblique): Similar to the PS plane, the beam is tilted and aimed toward the median sagittal plane.

 


Scanning Technique in Sono-anatomy of the Lumbar Spine
Scanning Technique in Sono-anatomy of the Lumbar Spine

 

Transverse process view: Sono-anatomy of the Lumbar Spine


  • Position the ultrasound probe in a paramedian sagittal (PS) orientation.

  • Ensure the probe is placed approximately 3–4 cm away from the midline.



Transverse Process View : Sonoanatomy of the Lumbar Spine
Transverse process view: Sono-anatomy of the Lumbar Spine


In the transverse process view:

  • Look for the trident sign, characterized by the finger-like acoustic shadows produced by the transverse processes.

 

Articular Process View: Sono-anatomy of the Lumbar Spine


  • Slide the ultrasound probe medially towards the midline while maintaining a paramedian sagittal (PS) orientation.



Articular Process View: Sono-anatomy of the Lumbar Spine
Articular Process View: Sono-anatomy of the Lumbar Spine


• Look for rounded "humps" representing the facet joints located between the superior and inferior articular processes.

Paramedian Sagittal Laminar View



In the paramedian sagittal laminar view: Sono-anatomy of the Lumbar Spine


  • Observe the "horse head" or "sawtooth" appearance.

  • Note that the hyperechoic bone is not continuous due to the presence of the interlaminar space.

  • This space enables visualization of both the posterior and anterior complexes.

Paramedian Sagittal Oblique Laminar View



In the paramedian sagittal laminar view: Sono-anatomy of the Lumbar Spine
In the paramedian sagittal laminar view: Sono-anatomy of the Lumbar Spine

Paramedian Sagittal Oblique (PS Oblique) View:: Sono-Anatomy of The Lumbar Spine

 

To achieve the paramedian sagittal oblique (PS oblique) view:

  • Begin with the paramedian sagittal (PS) articular process view.

  • Tilt the ultrasound probe towards the midline to obtain the PS oblique view.

  • Make additional small sliding and tilting movements of the probe as needed to optimize the view.


Paramedian Sagittal Oblique (PS Oblique) View:: Sono-Anatomy of The Lumbar Spine
Paramedian Sagittal Oblique (PS Oblique) View:: Sono-Anatomy of The Lumbar Spine


In the paramedian sagittal oblique view:

·   Observe the "sawtooth" appearance of the laminae.

·   Identify the posterior complex, which includes the ligamentum flavum, epidural space, and posterior dura.

·   Recognize the anterior complex, consisting of the anterior dura, posterior longitudinal ligament, and vertebral body.

·   Examine the paramedian oblique sagittal sonogram of the lumbar spine, focusing on the L3/4 and L4/5 levels.

·   Take note of the hypoechoic epidural space, typically a few millimetres wide, located between the hyperechoic ligamentum flavum and the posterior dura.

·   Identify the intrathecal space, an anechoic space situated between the posterior dura and the anterior complex in the sonogram.

·   Observe the cauda equina nerve fibres as hyperechoic, longitudinal structures within the thecal sac.

 

Transverse Spinous Process View: Sono-Anatomy of The Lumbar Spine

To obtain the transverse spinous process view:

  • Rotate the ultrasound probe 90 degrees into a transverse orientation.

  • Slide the probe cephalad or caudad as necessary to achieve transverse interlaminar views of the desired interspaces.

  • It may be necessary to tilt the probe in a cephalad direction to optimize the view.

In the transverse spinous process view:

  • Identify the distinct midline shadow cast by the spinous process.

  • Take note that the laminae are visible.

  • Understand that while the laminae are visible, the anterior and posterior complexes are obscured in this view.


Transverse Spinous Process View: Sono-Anatomy of The Lumbar Spine
Transverse Spinous Process View: Sono-Anatomy of The Lumbar Spine

 Transverse Interlaminar/Interspinous View: Sono-Anatomy of The Lumbar Spine


In the transverse interlaminar view, also known as the "Flying Bat" view:

  • Observe the appearance resembling a flying bat, indicating successful positioning.

  • The articular processes/facet joints (ADFJ) and transverse processes (TP) should be visible in this view.

  • Adjusting the tilt of the probe can help highlight the posterior and anterior complexes (PC / AC), providing a comprehensive visualization of the lumbar spine structures.


 Transverse Interlaminar/Interspinous View: Sono-Anatomy of The Lumbar Spine
 Transverse Interlaminar/Interspinous View: Sono-Anatomy of The Lumbar Spine

In conclusion, ultrasound imaging has become an indispensable tool in the realm of medical imaging, offering numerous advantages in visualizing anatomical structures of the lumbar spine. While traditional imaging modalities like MRI and CT scans continue to play a significant role, ultrasound presents unique benefits such as portability, cost-effectiveness, and avoidance of ionizing radiation.

Understanding the sono-anatomy of the lumbar spine is paramount for a successful ultrasound examination. From the visualization of bony structures like transverse processes to identifying complex features like facet joints and spinous processes, a comprehensive grasp of sono-anatomy enables accurate interpretation of ultrasound images.

Moreover, the versatility of ultrasound allows for various views, each providing valuable insights into different aspects of lumbar spine anatomy and pathology. Whether it's the paramedian sagittal oblique view revealing the intricate structures of the posterior and anterior complexes or the transverse interlaminar view highlighting the articular processes and transverse processes, ultrasound offers a comprehensive assessment of the lumbar spine.


About the Author -

Dr. Debjyoti Dutta stands as a prominent pain specialist and accomplished author, holding affiliations with Samobathi Pain Clinic and Fortis Hospital in Kolkata. Currently serving as a registrar at the Indian Academy of Pain Medicine, Dr. Dutta specializes in musculoskeletal ultrasound and interventional pain management. His noteworthy contributions to the field are exemplified through impactful publications like "Musculoskeletal Ultrasound in Pain Medicine" and "Clinical Methods in Pain Medicine," offering profound insights into effective pain management strategies. Beyond his clinical responsibilities, Dr. Dutta serves as a faculty member for the Asian Pain Academy Courses, playing a pivotal role in delivering top-notch pain management fellowship training in Kolkata, India. His dedicated efforts significantly contribute to the education and professional development of individuals in the field.

 

 

 

 

 

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