Don’t Forget the Pulses! Aortoiliac Peripheral Artery Disease Masquerading as Lumbar Radiculopathy—A Report of 3 Cases

Am J Orthop. 2016 July

Lumbar radiculopathy is a common problem encountered by orthopedic surgeons, and typically presents with lower back or buttock pain radiating down the leg.1 While the most common causes of lumbar radiculopathy are lumbar disc herniation and spinal stenosis, the differential diagnosis for lower extremity pain is broad and can be musculoskeletal, vascular, neurologic, or inflammatory in nature.1,2Differentiating between orthopedic, neurologic, and vascular causes of leg pain, such as peripheral artery disease (PAD), can sometimes be challenging. This is especially true in aortoiliac PAD, which can present with hip, buttock, and thigh pain. Dorsalis pedis pulses can be palpable due to collateral circulation. A careful history and physical examination is crucial to the correct diagnosis. The history should clearly document the nature of the pain, details of walking impairment, and the alleviating effects of standing still or positional changes. A complete neurovascular examination should include observations regarding the skin, hair, and nails, examination of dorsal pedis, popliteal, and femoral pulses in comparison to the contralateral side, and documentation of dural tension signs. Misdiagnoses can send the patient down a path of unnecessary tests, unindicated procedures, and ultimately, a delay in definitive diagnosis and treatment.1

To our knowledge, this is the first report on a series of patients with thigh pain initially diagnosed as radiculopathy who underwent unproductive diagnostic tests and procedures, and ultimately were given delayed diagnoses of aortoiliac PAD. The patients provided written informed consent for print and electronic publication of these case reports.

Case 1

An 81-year-old woman with a medical history notable for hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and stroke initially presented to an outside orthopedic institution with complaints of several months of lower back and right hip, thigh, and leg pain when walking. She did not report any history of night pain, weakness, or numbness. Examination at the time was notable for painful back extension, 4/5 hip flexion strength on the right compared to 5/5 on the left, but symmetric reflexes and negative dural tension signs. X-rays showed multilevel degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed a small L3/4 disc protrusion causing impingement of the L4 nerve root.

A transforaminal epidural steroid injection at the L4 level was performed with minimal resolution of symptoms. Several months later, right-sided intra-articular facet injections were performed at the L4/5 and L5/S1 levels, again with minimal relief of symptoms. At this point, the patient was sent for further physical therapy.

Over a year after symptom onset, the patient presented to our institution and was evaluated by a vascular surgeon. Physical examination was notable for 1+ femoral artery and dorsal pedis pulses on the right side, compared to 2+ on the left. An aortoiliac duplex ultrasound showed severe significant stenosis of the right common iliac artery (>75%).



Josh Sandberg

Josh Sandberg is the President and CEO of Ortho Spine Partners and sits on several company and industry related Boards. He also is the Creator and Editor of OrthoSpineNews.

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