Are high lumbar punctures safe? A magnetic resonance imaging morphometric study of the conus medullaris

Vivek Yedavalli, Mika S. Jain, Devsmita Das, Tarik F. Massoud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


A high lumbar puncture (LP) at L2–L3 or above is often necessary to consider on technical grounds, but complications of conus medullaris (CM) damage during high LP are potentially concerning. We hypothesized that a high LP might be safer than previously thought by accounting for movements of the CM upon patient positional changes. We retrospectively reviewed standard normal supine lumbar spine magnetic resonance imaging of 58 patients and used electronic calipers on axial images at the T12–L1, L1–L2, and L2–L3 disc levels to measure the transverse diameter of the CM relative to the size of the dorsal thecal sac space (DTSS) through which a spinal needle could be inserted. On 142 axial images, the means for CM diameters were 8.2, 6.0, and 2.9 mm at the three levels, respectively. We then used known literature mean CM displacement values in the legs flexed and unflexed lateral decubitus position (LDP) to factor in CM shifts to the dependent side. We found that at all three levels, the likely positional shift of the CM would be too small and insufficient to displace the entire CM out of the DTSS. However, if needle placement could be confined to the midsagittal plane, an LP in the unflexed LDP would theoretically be entirely safe at both L1–L2 and L2–L3, and almost so at L2–L3 in the legs flexed LDP. Thus, high LPs at L1–L2 and L2–L3 are in theory likely safer than considered previously, more so in the legs unflexed than in the flexed LDP. Clin. Anat. 32:618–629, 2019.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)618-629
Number of pages12
JournalClinical Anatomy
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • cauda equina
  • filum terminale
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • spinal cord
  • spinal puncture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Histology


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