A review of lumbosacral transitional vertebrae and associated vertebral numeration

Jayson Lian, Nicole Levine, Woojin Cho

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Purpose: To review the current literature on methods of accurate numeration of vertebral segments in patients with Lumbosacral transitional vertebrae (LSTVs). LSTVs are a common congenital anomaly of the L5–S1 junction. While their clinical significance has been debated, unquestionable is the need for their identification prior to spinal surgery. We hypothesize that there are no reliable landmarks by which we can accurately number transitional vertebrae, and thus a full spinal radiograph is required. Methods: A Pubmed and EMBASE search using various combinations of specific key words including “LSTV”, “lumbosacral transitional vertebrae”, “count”, “vertebral numbering”, and “number” was performed. Results: The gold standard for spinal segment numeration in patients with LSTV remains whole spine imaging and counting caudally, starting from C2. If whole spine imaging is not available, the use of the iliac crest tangent sign on coronal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has fairly reliable sensitivity and specificity (81 and 64–88%, respectively) for accurate numeration of LSTV. The role of paraspinal anatomic markers such as the right renal artery, superior mesenteric artery, aortic bifurcation, and conus medullaris, for identification of vertebral levels is unreliable and should not be used. Conclusions: A sagittal whole spine view should be added as a scout view when patients obtain lumbar MRI to standardize the vertebral numbering technique. To date, there has been no other method for accurate numeration of a transitional vertebral segment, other than counting caudally from C2. Graphical abstract: These slides can be retrieved under Electronic Supplementary Material.[Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)995-1004
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean Spine Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2018


  • Lumbosacral transitional vertebrae
  • Radiograph
  • Vertebral counting
  • Vertebral numbering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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