Object: The mean level of the conus medullaris (CM) has been estimated to lie opposite the L1/2 disc space in several previous studies using ultrasound, CT myelography, and magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, but these studies have been limited in examining only the lumbar spine and including patients being evaluated for back pain and sciatica (creating a selection bias). Moreover, significant variability was found in the termination of the CM, with a small subset of subjects having a CM as low as the mid-body of L4. The authors sought to determine the normal level of the CM and its variability.
Methods: Children with brain or spinal cord tumors who underwent whole-spine surveillance MR imaging were identified retrospectively. The level of the CM was identified in each subject by counting down from C1. Vertebral anomalies, such as lumbarized S1, sacralized L5, or fewer rib-bearing segments, and the presence of fatty filum were noted.
Results: Findings regarding the level of termination of the CM were tightly grouped; the average was at the lower third of L1 and the mode of the distribution was at the L1/2 disc space, with very little variation. No CM ended below the mid-body of L2. The level of the CM was not significantly different among individuals with lumbarized or sacralized vertebrae or 11 rib-bearing segments.
Conclusions: The CM terminates most commonly at the L1-2 disc space and in the absence of tethering, the CM virtually never ends below the mid-body of L2. A CM that appears more caudal on neuroimages should be considered tethered.