Treatment of symptomatic flatback after spinal fusion.
Fifty-five patients who had loss of lumbar lordosis after spinal fusion and subsequently had corrective osteotomies were studied. When they were first seen, fifty-two patients (95 per cent) were unable to stand erect and forty-nine (89 per cent) had back pain. The previous use of distraction instrumentation with a hook placed at the level of the lower lumbar spine or the sacrum was the factor that was most frequently identified as leading to the development of the flatback syndrome. Sixty-six extension osteotomies were performed in these fifty-five patients. Nineteen patients (35 per cent) had an associated anterior spinal fusion. Thirty-three patients (60 per cent) had one or more complications, including pseudarthrosis, a dural tear, failure of hardware, neurapraxia, and urinary tract infection. The results of the operation were evaluated at follow-up by review of clinical records, radiographs, and questionnaires. At an average follow-up of six years (range, two to fourteen years), most patients felt that they had benefited from the corrective osteotomies. However, twenty-six patients (47 per cent) continued to lean forward and twenty patients (36 per cent) continued to have moderate or severe back pain. The failure to restore sagittal plane balance led to a higher rate of pseudarthrosis, which was associated with recurrent deformity. Anterior spinal fusion combined with posterior osteotomy resulted in greater maintenance of correction. The prevention of flatback syndrome is important, since its treatment is difficult. When a spinal fusion must be extended to the level of the lower lumbar spine or the sacrum, the use of distraction instrumentation should be avoided in order to prevent this deformity.