Femoral nerve and lumbar plexus injury after minimally invasive lateral retroperitoneal transpsoas approach: electrodiagnostic prognostic indicators and a roadmap to recovery

Neurosurg Rev. 2018 Apr;41(2):457-464. doi: 10.1007/s10143-017-0863-7. Epub 2017 May 30.


Injury to the lumbosacral (LS) plexus is a well-described complication after lateral retroperitoneal transpsoas approaches to the spine. The prognosis for functional recovery after lumbosacral plexopathy or femoral/obturator neuropathy is unclear. We designed a retrospective case-control study with patients undergoing one-level lateral retroperitoneal transpsoas lumbar interbody fusion (LLIF) between January 2011 and June 2016 to correlate electrodiagnostic assessments (EDX) to physiologic concepts of nerve injury and reinnervation, and attempt to build a timeline for patient evaluation and recovery. Cases with post-operative obturator or femoral neuropathy were identified. Post-operative MRI, nerve conduction studies (NCS), electromyography (EMG), and physical examinations were performed at intervals to assess clinical and electrophysiologic recovery of function. Two hundred thirty patients underwent LLIF. Six patients (2.6%) suffered severe femoral or femoral/obturator neuropathy. Five patients (2.2%) had immediate post-operative weakness. One of the six patients developed delayed weakness due to a retroperitoneal hematoma. Five out of six patients (83%) demonstrated EDX findings at 6 weeks consistent with axonotmesis. All patients improved to at least MRC 4/5 within 12 months of injury. In conclusion, neurapraxia is the most common LS plexus injury, and complete recovery is expected after 3 months. Most severe nerve injuries are a combination of neurapraxia and variable degrees of axonotmesis. EDX performed at 6 weeks and 3, 6, and 9 months provides prognostic information for recovery. In severe injuries of proximal femoral and obturator nerves, observation of proximal to distal progression of small-amplitude, short-duration (SASD) motor unit potentials may be the most significant prognostic indicator.

Keywords: Complications; Femoral nerve injury; LLIF; Lateral retroperitoneal transpsoas lumbar interbody fusion; Lumbar plexus; XLIF.

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Electrodiagnosis*
  • Femoral Nerve / injuries*
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery*
  • Lumbosacral Plexus / injuries*
  • Minimally Invasive Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Minimally Invasive Surgical Procedures / methods*
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiopathology
  • Nerve Regeneration / physiology
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology*
  • Postoperative Complications / physiopathology
  • Prognosis
  • Psoas Muscles / surgery*
  • Retroperitoneal Space / surgery
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Fusion / adverse effects*
  • Spinal Fusion / methods*