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A limbus vertebra is a well-corticated unfused secondary ossification center of the vertebral body, usually of its anterosuperior corner, that occurs secondary to herniation of the nucleus pulposus through the vertebral body endplate beneath the ring apophysis (see ossification of the vertebrae). These are closely related to Schmorl nodes and should not be confused with limbus fractures or infection.
Their formation occurs before the age of 18 years, but often they are seen in older adults.
Anterior limbus vertebrae are generally asymptomatic and are detected incidentally. Posterior limbus vertebrae are far less common but have been reported to cause nerve compression.
Limbus vertebrae should be well-corticated, that is they have a sclerotic margin, are triangular in shape and occupy the expected location of a normal vertebral body corner, with a smooth sclerotic subjacent corticated vertebral margin. The 'fragment' of bone will not 'fit' into the adjacent bone as one would normally expect with a fracture and will often appear to be too small.
A limbus vertebra of the anterosuperior corner of a single vertebral body in the mid lumbar spine is the most common presentation. The anteroinferior and posteroinferior corners are seen far less frequently. Occasionally it may be seen in the thoracic spine.
Usually, radiography with or without CT or MRI is sufficient for diagnosis. Initially, the etiology was confirmed with discography where contrast extends into the intraosseous herniation of the nucleus pulposus.
History and etymology
The term limbus is a direct borrowing from the Latin word meaning fringe, as in the edge of something, or hem 3. Interestingly, limbus vertebra was first described by Schmorl in 1927 4.
- 1. Ghelman B, Freiberger RH. The limbus vertebra: an anterior disc herniation demonstrated by discography. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1976;127 (5): 854-5. AJR Am J Roentgenol (abstract) - Pubmed citation
- 2. Carr RB, Fink KR, Gross JA. Imaging of trauma: Part 1, Pseudotrauma of the spine--osseous variants that may simulate injury. (2012) AJR. American journal of roentgenology. 199 (6): 1200-6. doi:10.2214/AJR.12.9083 - Pubmed
- 3. John C. Traupman. The Bantam New College Latin & English Dictionary. (2018) ISBN: 9780553590128
- 4. Schmorl G (1926). Die pathologische Anatomie der Wirbelsäule. Verhandlungen der Deutchen Orthopadeschen Gesellschaft 21: 3-41.