Diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) can provide valuable structural information that may be useful for evaluating pathological changes of the lumbar nerve root. Diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance (MR) neurography has recently been introduced as an alternative way to visualize nerves, but to date, quantitative DWI and MR neurography have not been applied to evaluate the pathology of lumbar nerve roots.
Methods Our purpose was to visualize lumbar nerve roots and to analyze their morphology by MR neurography, and to measure the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) of lumbar nerve roots compressed by herniated disks using 1.5-T MR imaging. Ten consecutive patients (median age, 48.0 and range, 20–72 years) with monoradicular symptoms caused by a lumbar herniated disk and 14 healthy volunteers were studied. Regions of interests were placed on the lumbar roots at dorsal root ganglia (DRG) and distal spinal nerves on DWI to quantify mean ADC values. The spinal nerve roots were also visualized by MR neurography.
Results In the patients, mean ADC values were significantly greater in the compressed DRG and distal spinal nerves than in intact nerves. MR neurography also showed abnormalities such as nerve swelling at and below the compression in the symptomatic nerve root. Increased ADC values were considered to be because of edema and Wallerian degeneration of compressed nerve roots.
Conclusion DWI is a potential tool for analysis of the pathophysiology of lumbar nerve roots compressed by herniated disks.