Sagittal plane alignment of the spine and gravity A radiological and clinical evaluation.

Published online: Apr 27 2005


From the University Clinic Mont-Godinne, Belgium and INSERM, Meudon, France


Analysis of the sagittal balance of the spine includes the study of the spinal curves and of the pelvis in the sagittal plane. It therefore requires full-spine lateral radiographs. The sagittal balance of the spine was studied in forty-nine young adults. Strong correlations were observed between parameters related to the pelvis (“pelvic incidence angle”, “sacral slope” and “pelvic tilting”), and the sagittal spinal curves (“lordosis” and “kyphosis”). We therefore propose to begin the evaluation of the sagittal plane alignment of the spine in clinical practice with measurement of the pelvic incidence angle. The relationship between the pelvic incidence angle and the sacral slope, as well as between the sacral slope and lordosis, is then assessed, and these are related to each other. The use of a graphic abacus facilitates assessment of the physiological comparison of the measured values and of the relationship between pelvic and spinal parameters, within their range of physiological variability. This analysis of the sagittal alignment of the spine also considers its dynamic aspect and the importance of gravity load and of muscular contraction on the lumbar structures. These data have been published previously and are recalled here. Three basic patterns of disruption of the relations between parameters may be encountered : a sacral slope angle exceeding the value expected considering the measured pelvic incidence angle (owing to fixed flexion contracture of the hips), excessive lordosis with regard to the observed sacral slope angle (with hyperkyphosis at the thoracic level) and stiff hypolordosis with pelvic retroversion. These three conditions are analysed in the light of the repercussions of the gravity load on the lumbar structures.