Precision of Lumbar Intervertebral Measurements: Does a Computer-Assisted Technique Improve Reliability?

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Abstract

Study Design.

Comparison of intra- and interobserver reliability of digitized manual and computer-assisted intervertebral motion measurements and classification of “instability.”

Objective.

To determine if computer-assisted measurement of lumbar intervertebral motion on flexion-extension radiographs improves reliability compared with digitized manual measurements.

Summary of Background Data.

Many studies have questioned the reliability of manual intervertebral measurements, although few have compared the reliability of computer-assisted and manual measurements on lumbar flexion-extension radiographs.

Methods.

Intervertebral rotation, anterior-posterior (AP) translation, and change in anterior and posterior disc height were measured with a digitized manual technique by three physicians and by three other observers using computer-assisted quantitative motion analysis (QMA) software. Each observer measured 30 sets of digital flexion-extension radiographs (L1-S1) twice. Shrout-Fleiss intraclass correlation coefficients for intra- and interobserver reliabilities were computed. The stability of each level was also classified (instability defined as >4 mm AP translation or 10° rotation), and the intra- and interobserver reliabilities of the two methods were compared using adjusted percent agreement (APA).

Results.

Intraobserver reliability intraclass correlation coefficients were substantially higher for the QMA technique THAN the digitized manual technique across all measurements: rotation 0.997 versus 0.870, AP translation 0.959 versus 0.557, change in anterior disc height 0.962 versus 0.770, and change in posterior disc height 0.951 versus 0.283. The same pattern was observed for interobserver reliability (rotation 0.962 vs. 0.693, AP translation 0.862 vs. 0.151, change in anterior disc height 0.862 vs. 0.373, and change in posterior disc height 0.730 vs. 0.300). The QMA technique was also more reliable for the classification of “instability.” Intraobserver APAs ranged from 87 to 97% for QMA versus 60% to 73% for digitized manual measurements, while interobserver APAs ranged from 91% to 96% for QMA versus 57% to 63% for digitized manual measurements.

Conclusion.

The use of QMA software substantially improved the reliability of lumbar intervertebral measurements and the classification of instability based on flexion-extension radiographs.

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