Trajectory of the main sensory and motor branches of the lumbar plexus outside the psoas muscle related to the lateral retroperitoneal transpsoas approach. Laboratory investigation

Elias Dakwar, Fernando Vale Diaz, Juan S. Uribe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

50 Scopus citations


Object. The minimally invasive lateral retroperitoneal transpsoas approach is increasingly used to treat various spinal disorders. Accessing the retroperitoneal space and traversing the abdominal wall poses a risk of injury to the major nervous structures and adds significant morbidity to the procedure. Most of the current literature focuses on the anatomy of the lumbar plexus within the substance of the psoas muscle. However, there is sparse knowledge regarding the trajectory of the lumbar plexus nerves that travel along the retroperitoneum and abdominal wall muscles in relation to the lateral approach to the spine. The objective of this study is to define the anatomical trajectories of the major motor and sensory branches of the lumbar plexus that are located outside the psoas muscle. Methods. Six adult fresh frozen cadaveric specimens were dissected and studied (12 sides). The relationship between the retroperitoneum, abdominal wall muscles, and the lumbar plexus nerves was analyzed in reference to the minimally invasive lateral retroperitoneal approach. Special attention was given to the lumbar plexus nerves that run outside of psoas muscle in the retroperitoneal cavity and within the abdominal muscle wall. Results. The skin and muscles of the abdominal wall and the retroperitoneal cavity were dissected and analyzed with respect to the major motor and sensory branches of the lumbar plexus. The authors identified 4 nerves at risk during the lateral approach to the spine: subcostal, iliohypogastric, ilioinguinal, and lateral femoral cutaneous nerves. The anatomical trajectory of each of these nerves is described starting from the spinal column until their termination or exit from the pelvic cavity. Conclusions. There is risk of direct injury to the main motor/sensory nerves that supply the anterior abdominal muscles during the early stages of the lateral retroperitoneal transpsoas approach while obtaining access to the retroperitoneum. There is also a risk of injury to the ilioinguinal, iliohypogastric, and lateral femoral cutaneous nerves in the retroperitoneal space where they travel obliquely during the blunt retroperitoneal dissection. Moreover, there is a latent possibility of lesioning these nerves with the retractor blades against the anterior iliac crest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)290-295
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Neurosurgery: Spine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2011
Externally publishedYes



  • Anatomy
  • Direct lateral interbody fusion
  • Extreme lateral interbody fusion
  • Lateral access
  • Lumbar interbody fusion
  • Retroperitoneal approach
  • Transpsoas approach

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology

Cite this