Bhavuk Garg, Nishank Mehta, Vivek Vijayakumar, Anupam Gupta

January 2021, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 164 - 172 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-020-06624-z

First Online: 12 October 2020

Defining a safe working zone for lateral lumbar interbody fusion: a radiographic, cross-sectional study


To present a radiographic analysis of the anatomy of the lumbar plexus and retroperitoneal blood vessels with respect to psoas morphology and safe working zones (SWZ) for LLIF.


A retrospective radiographic analysis of 158 MRI scans was performed. Selected morphometric measurements were performed at L1–L2, L2–L3, L3–L4 and L4–L5 levels: disc anteroposterior distance, psoas anteroposterior distance, lumbar plexus–anterior disc distance, lumbar plexus–anterior psoas distance, vena cava–anterior disc distance and calculation of SWZ in psoas on both left and right sides. The morphometric measurements were analysed for differences with sex and the level.


All the morphometric parameters differed significantly at all levels between males and females. The SWZ was significantly wider on the left side compared to the right—at L2–L3, L3–L4 and L4–L5 levels in females and at L3–L4 and L4–L5 levels in males. The SWZ at L4–L5 was narrowest on both left and right sides–and significantly reduced compared to other levels. 6.9% patients had a SWZ > 20 mm on the left side, and 44.9% patients had SWZ < 20 mm on the right side. With caudal progression of levels, the lumbar plexus and psoas muscle migrated anteriorly and the vena cava/right iliac vein migrated posteriorly.


A detailed study of preoperative MRI scans should be carried out in patients planned for LLIF—particularly, at L4–L5 level and in females. A left-sided trans-psoas approach is safer to perform compared to the right side—a right-sided approach should be avoided at L4–L5 considering the narrow SWZ at that level.

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