What is the anatomy of the mamillo-accessory ligament (MAL) relevant to lumbosacral facet syndrome?

Updated: Nov 19, 2018
  • Author: Gerard A Malanga, MD; Chief Editor: Craig C Young, MD  more...
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Answer

After the medial branch splits off from the dorsal ramus, it courses caudally around the base of the superior articular process of the level below toward that level’s Z-joint (eg, the L2 medial branch wraps around the L3 superior articular process to approach the L2-L3 Z-joint). The medial branch then continues in a groove between the superior articular process and transverse process (or, in the case of the L5 medial branch, between the superior articular process of S1 and the sacral ala of S1, which is the homologous structure to the transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae). As it makes this course, the medial branch is held in place by a ligament joining the superior articular process and the transverse process, termed the mamillo-accessory ligament (MAL) (see image below).

Dorsal ramus innervation (medial and lateral branc Dorsal ramus innervation (medial and lateral branches). MAL23 = mamillo-accessory ligament bridging the mamillary and accessory processes of L2 and L3; Z-joint = zygapophyseal joint.

The MAL is so named because it adjoins the mamillary process of the superior articular process to the accessory process of the transverse process (see image below). The MAL is clinically important because it allows precise location of the medial branch of the dorsal ramus using only bony landmarks, which is essential for fluoroscopically guided procedures.

Mamillary process anatomy. Mamillary process anatomy.

After passing underneath the MAL, the medial branch of the dorsal ramus gives off 2 branches to the nearby Z-joints. One branch innervates the Z-joint of that level, and the second branch descends caudally to the level below. Therefore, each medial branch of the dorsal ramus innervates 2 joints—that level and the level below (eg, the L3 medial branch innervates the L3-L4 and L4-L5 Z-joints). Similarly, each Z-joint is innervated by the 2 most cephalad medial branches (eg, the L3-L4 Z-joint is innervated by the L2 and L3 medial branches). Some authors have also suggested that the L5-S1 Z-joint has a unique triple innervation; in addition to the expected innervation by the L3 and L4 medial branches, the S1 medial branch emerging from the S1 posterior sacral foramen ascends cranially to also innervate the L5-S1 Z-joint. This has not, however, been consistently reported.


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