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Failure of ultrasound in the investigation of sciatica

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This paper reports a prospective study of the value of ultrasonography in detecting lesions of the lumbar spine in patients with compressive sciatica. The measurements of the diameter of the spinal canal obtained by using ultrasound were compared with the findings at operation in 17 patients in whom a total of 50 sites were examined. The ultrasound beam failed to penetrate the spinal canal at 15 sites and at only 10 of the remaining 35 sites did the ultrasound correctly detect narrowing. It is concluded that ultrasonography is unreliable in identifying the site of compression of the spinal cord and nerve roots. The technical limitations and the probable causes of failure of the technique are discussed.

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