Lateral Recess Definition

Spinal stenosis in the spinal canal including the lateral recess.
Spinal stenosis in the spinal canal including the lateral recess. rob3000

Lateral Recess

Also known as Lee's entrance, the lateral recess is the space within the spinal canal that is located toward the sides. (Lateral is a medical word for "side.")

Because of that, it is also located close to the spinal nerve root and the spinal canal.

Lateral Recess Borders

The lateral recess has 5 borders.  These include the back of the vertebral body, which although it may sound odd, provides the front border of the lateral recess.

 On the sides, a structure called the pedicle is what makes up the border.  The pedicle is a small piece of bone that arises off the back of the vertebral body, and is the first part of the bony ring in back.. (There are two pedicles at the back of each vertebral body - a right one and a left one.)  As this bony piece continues around (making the bony ring,) it becomes the lamina.  

By the way, other pieces of bone emanate off the bony ring in back at the pedicle and at the lamina into other directions.  These are the articular processes and transverse processes near the pedicle and the spinous process at the center of the bony ring - between the two lamina.  

One of those articular processes - the superior (superior means above in medicalese) provides part of the back border of the lateral recess.  The other part of the back border is provided the ligamentum flavum.  Of the numerous ligaments attached to the spine, the ligamentum flavum is the one that connects between lamina of the spinal bones.

 Its job is to protect you from disc injury by keeping you from bending forward too much (especially abruptly.)

As I mentioned above, in front, the border of the lateral recess is composed of the back of the vertebral body.  In the interest of being thorough, I'll add the margin of the vertebral endplate and the margin of the intervertebral disc.

Lateral Recess Stenosis

As a part of the spinal canal, the lateral recess may be vulnerable to spinal stenosis. Age-related changes in bones, facet joints (which are constructed of the articular processes mentioned above) and/or ligaments may cause these structures to in some way occupy the lateral recess.  Because of the proximity, these imposing structures may “bump into” the nearby spinal nerve root and/or spinal cord. This likely will cause pronounced pain and symptoms of radiculopathy or myelopathy, depending on if it's the nerve root or the spinal cord that is affected.

For example, as we age, changes in the ligamentum flavum which include thickening, losing strength, losing elasticity may result in a buckling towards the spinal canal. This creates a narrower spinal canal - the hallmark sign of spinal stenosis.  If the buckling impinges on a spinal nerve, it may cause radiculopathy symptoms.


Bartynskia, Walter S. Lina, Luke. Lumbar Root Compression in the Lateral Recess: MR Imaging, Conventional Myelography, and CT Myelography Comparison with Surgical Confirmation. American Journal of Neuroradiology.

Park, J., Lee, J., Park, S., Riew, K. Hypertrophy of ligamentum flavum in lumbar spinal stenosis associated with increased proteinase inhibitor concentration. J Bone Joint Surg Am. Dec 2005.

Rajesh P., Spinal Stenosis. Accessed: Feb 2016.

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