Triggered EMG potentials in determining neuroanatomical safe zone for transpsoas lumbar approach

Vishal Sarwahi, Abhijit Pawar, Etan Sugarman, Alan D. Legatt, Aviva Dworkin, Beverly Thornhill, Yungtai Lo, Stephen F. Wendolowski, Rachel C. Gecelter, Marina Moguilevitch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Study Design. In vivo analysis in swine model. Objective. The purpose of this study was to determine the accuracy of triggered EMG (t-EMG) and its reliability in lateral lumbar interbody fusions surgery. We also aim to document changes in psoas muscle produced during the approach. Summary of Background Data. Lateral lumbar interbody fusions is preferred over direct anterior approach because of lower complications, blood loss, and shorter recovery time. Threshold-EMGs are utilized for real-time feedback about nerve location; however, neurological deficits are widely reported, and are unique to this approach. Multiple factors have been hypothesized including neuropraxia from retractors and compression from psoas hematoma/edema. The variable reports of neurological complication even with t-EMGs indicate the need to study them further. Methods. Eight swines underwent left-sided retroperitoneal approach. The nerve on the surface of the psoas was identified and threshold-EMGs were obtained utilizing a ball-tip, and needle probe. First EMG and threshold responses required to elicit 20-μV responses were recorded for 2mm incremental distances up to 10mm. In the second part, a K-wire was inserted into the mid-lumbar disc space, and a tubular retractor docked and dilated adequately. Postmortem CT scans were carried out to evaluate changes in psoas muscle. Results. A t-EMG stimulus threshold of <5mA indicates a higher probability that the probe is close to or on the nerve, but this was not proportional to the distance suggesting limitations for nerve mapping. Negative predictive value of t-EMGs is 76.5% with the ball-tipped probe and 80% with the needle probe for t-EMG ≥10mA and indicates that even with higher thresholds, the nerve may be much closer than anticipated. Postoperative hematoma was not seen on CT scans. Conclusion. Threshold measurements are unreliable in estimating distance from the nerve in an individual subject and higher values do not always correspond to a 'safe zone."

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E647-E653
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • LLIF
  • large animal study
  • neuromapping
  • psoas hematoma
  • safe zone
  • threshold EMGs
  • triggered EMGs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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