Nerve root sedimentation sign: Evaluation of a new radiological sign in lumbar spinal stenosis
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STUDY DESIGN.: Retrospective case-referent study. OBJECTIVE.: To assess whether the new sedimentation sign discriminates between nonspecific low back pain (LBP) and symptomatic lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS). SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA.: In the diagnosis of LSS, radiologic findings do not always correlate with clinical symptoms, and additional diagnostic signs are needed. In patients without LSS, we observe the sedimentation of lumbar nerve roots to the dorsal part of the dural sac on supine magnetic resonance image scans. In patients with symptomatic and morphologic central LSS, this sedimentation is rarely seen. We named this phenomenon "sedimentation sign" and defined the absence of sedimenting nerve roots as positive sedimentation sign for the diagnosis of LSS. METHODS.: This study included 200 patients. Patients in the LSS group (n = 100) showed claudication with or without LBP and leg pain, a cross-sectional area <80 mm, and a walking distance <200 m; patients in the LBP group (n = 100) had LBP, no leg pain, no claudication, a cross-sectional area of the dural sac >120 mm, and a walking distance >1000 m. The frequency of a positive sedimentation sign was compared between the 2 groups, and intraobserver and interobserver reliability were assessed in a random subsample (n = 20). RESULTS.: A positive sedimentation sign was identified in 94 patients in the LSS group (94%; 95% confidence interval, 90%-99%) but none in the LBP group (0%; 95% confidence interval, 0%-4%). Reliability was kappa = 1.0 (intraobserver) and kappa = 0.93 (interobserver), respectively. There was no difference in the detection of the sign between segmental levels L1-L5 in the LSS group. CONCLUSION.: A positive sedimentation sign exclusively and reliably occurs in patients with LSS, suggesting its usefulness in clinical practice. Future accuracy studies will address its sensitivity and specificity. If they confirm the sign's high specificity, a positive sedimentation sign can rule in LSS, and, with a high sensitivity, a negative sedimentation sign can rule out LSS. © 2010, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
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