Anatomy of the cervical intervertebral foramina: vulnerable arteries and ischemic neurologic injuries after transforaminal epidural injections

Pain. 2005 Sep;117(1-2):104-11. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2005.05.030.


Cervical transforaminal epidural steroid injections are performed for the treatment of radicular pain. Multiple recent case reports have raised safety concerns regarding neurologic deficits such as anterior spinal artery syndrome and cerebellar injury after these injections. To investigate the potential causes of these injuries, an anatomic study was conducted. In this study of 10 embalmed cadavers, the cervical intervertebral foramina were examined to determine if the ascending or deep cervical arteries supplied radicular or segmental medullary arteries potentially susceptible to cannulation or needle trauma during transforaminal injection. In two specimens, dissection was carried down to the spinal cord, demonstrating the anterior spinal, radicular, and segmental medullary arteries. Of 95 intervertebral foramina dissected, 21 had an arterial vessel proximal to the posterior aspect of the foraminal opening. Seven of these 21 were spinal branches that entered the foramen posteriorly, potentially forming radicular or segmental medullary vessels to the spinal cord. One additional ascending cervical artery formed a segmental medullary artery that joined the anterior spinal artery. This would only be injured by anterior needle misplacement. Of the seven foraminal branches, three were included in the deep dissections. Two contributed to segmental medullary arteries and one to a radicular artery. Variable anastomoses between the vertebral and cervical arteries were found. Therefore, it is possible to introduce steroid particles into the vertebral circulation via the cervical arteries. Critical arteries are located in the posterior aspect of the intervertebral foramen and may be vulnerable to injection or injury during transforaminal epidural steroid injection.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cadaver
  • Cervical Vertebrae / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injections, Epidural / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / etiology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / pathology
  • Vertebral Artery / pathology*