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Anatomy of the sural nerve complex: Unaccounted anatomic variations and morphometric data
Annals of Anatomy  (IF2.698),  Pub Date : 2021-04-28, DOI: 10.1016/j.aanat.2021.151742
Robert Steele, Charles Coker, Blair Freed, Barth Wright, Philip Brauer


The sural nerve (SN) is a cutaneous sensory nerve innervating the posterolateral leg. The SN is formed from a highly variable set of contributing nerves called the sural nerve complex (SNC). The SNC is made up of the lateral sural cutaneous nerve, medial sural cutaneous nerve, sural communicating branch, and SN. The SN is frequently cited as the most common donor nerve graft and is commonly injured in procedures of the lower extremity. Recent meta-analysis standardized six morphologies of the SNC and established a required reporting criterion for the group of nerves forming the SN. Due to the inconsistencies in previous literature, this study will group observed SNC's by one of these six SNC morphologies to assess and validate the meta-analysis grouping criteria. This study will also collect the same morphometric data previously outlined in order to grow the number of samples that are reported in a standardized fashion.


100 formalin and 4 Theil preserved cadavers (n = 208) lower limbs were bilaterally dissected at Kansas City University and Creighton University School of Dentistry to observe the SNC in its entirety on the posterolateral leg. Anatomic data was captured utilizing the standardized morphologies types 1–6 with two sub-typing. Nerves that were found to be outside of this categorization were placed in an unassigned grouping.


The most prevalent SNCs were type 1 at 41.35% (n = 86) and type 3 nerves at 34.62% (n = 72). Type 2 was found 8.65% (n = 18), type 4 and 5 were found each at 0.48% (n = 1). Type 6 was not observed. When comparing the present studies frequency of nerve types 1–6 to the meta-analysis a sub-grouping of “North American” cadaveric studies a X2 = .903 p = .030 was found. Two distinct and previously unassigned formations of the SNC were 10.58% (n = 20) and 3.85% (n = 8) of data. These two SNC are termed type 7 & 8, these represent two formations of SN that are outside of what was previously reported. 15.87% (n = 33) did not match visual descriptions based on nerve origin of a type 1 SNC but met written definitions. These were termed type 1A1 and type 1A2. The SNC was asymmetrical in 57.69% (n = 120). The pooled mean length of the SN was 32.97 ± 14.12 cm (31.05–34.88), mean diameter was 2.31 ± 0.83 mm (2.20–2.42, and the distance of the posterior border of the lateral malleolus to the SN was found to be 1.72 ± 0.70 cm (1.63–1.80).


Anatomic variation in the SNC is highly variable, yet is consistent with previously observed literature. This study demonstrates two unaccounted formations of the SNC as well as two additional subcategories of SNC that were not included in the previous meta-analysis. These four variants warrant inclusion as standard formations of the SNC due to the high prevalence observed in this study as well as historical consistency observed in previous literature and case reports. These two SNC formations increase the risk of iatrogenic injury during surgical interventions of the lower extremity. Morphometric data describing the spatial relationship of this nerve complex on the posterolateral leg is consistent with previously reported data and aids in generating a large data set for future studies to characterize spatial properties of this nerve complex.