Symptomatic and asymptomatic abnormalities in patients with lumbosacral radicular syndrome: Clinical examination compared with MRI

Clin Neurol Neurosurg. 2006 Sep;108(6):553-7. doi: 10.1016/j.clineuro.2005.10.003. Epub 2005 Nov 10.


Objective: To determine the frequency of symptomatic and asymptomatic herniated discs and root compression in patients with lumbosacral radicular syndrome (LRS) and to correlate clinical localization with MRI findings.

Methods: Fifty-seven patients with unilateral LRS were included in the study. Using the visual analogue scale, two physicians independently localized the most likely lumbar level of complaints. These clinical predictions of localizations were correlated with the MRI findings.

Results: MRI showed abnormalities on the symptomatic side in 42 of 57 patients (74%). In 30% of the patients, MRI confirmed an abnormality at the exact same level as determined after clinical examination. On the asymptomatic side, MRI showed abnormalities in 19 of 57 patients (33%), 13 (23%) of these patients had asymptomatic root compression.

Conclusions: In more than two-thirds of the patients with unilateral LRS there was no exact match between the level predicted by clinical examination and MRI findings. These discrepancies complicate the decision whether or not to operate.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / complications
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / epidemiology*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / pathology
  • Low Back Pain / etiology*
  • Low Back Pain / pathology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Medical History Taking
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Physical Examination
  • Radiculopathy / complications
  • Radiculopathy / epidemiology*
  • Radiculopathy / pathology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sacrum*
  • Syndrome