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Is it painful to be different? Sciatic nerve anatomical variants on MRI and their relationship to piriformis syndrome

Adam L Bartret, Christopher F Beaulieu, Amelie M Lutz
European Radiology 2018, 28 (11): 4681-4686
29713768

OBJECTIVES: To investigate the purported relationship between sciatic nerve variant anatomy and piriformis syndrome.

METHODS: Over 49 months, 1039 consecutive noncontrast adult hip MRIs were completed for various clinical indications. Repeat and technically insufficient studies were excluded. Radiologists categorized sciatic nerve anatomy into Beaton and Anson anatomical types. Chart review using our institution's cohort search and navigation tool determined the prevalence of the explicit clinical diagnosis of piriformis syndrome (primary endpoint) and sciatica and buttock pain (secondary endpoints). A Z-test compared the prevalence of each diagnosis in the variant anatomy and normal groups.

RESULTS: Seven hundred eighty-three studies were included, with sciatic nerve variants present in 150 hips (19.2%). None of the diagnoses had a statistically significant difference in prevalence between the variant and normal hip groups. Specifically, piriformis syndrome was present in 11.3% of variant hips compared with 9.0% of normal hips (p = 0.39).

CONCLUSIONS: There were no significant differences in the prevalence of piriformis syndrome, buttock pain, or sciatica between normal and variant sciatic nerve anatomy. This large-scale correlative radiologic study into the relationship between sciatic nerve variants and piriformis syndrome calls into question this purported relationship.

KEY POINTS: • Large retrospective study relating variant sciatic nerve anatomy, present in 19.2% of hip MRIs, and piriformis syndrome • While sciatic nerve variant anatomy has previously been implicated in piriformis syndrome in small studies, no relationship was identified between sciatic nerve variants and piriformis syndrome.

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