Does Obesity Affect Outcomes of Treatment for Lumbar Stenosis and Degenerative Spondylolisthesis? Analysis of the Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial (SPORT)

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Study Design.

Retrospective subgroup analysis of prospectively collected data according to treatment received.


The purpose of this study was to determine whether obesity affects treatment outcomes for lumbar stenosis (SpS) and degenerative spondylolisthesis (DS).

Summary of Background Data.

Obesity is thought to be associated with increased complications and potentially less favorable outcomes after the treatment of degenerative conditions of the lumbar spine. This, however, remains a matter of debate in the existing literature.


An as-treated analysis was performed on patients enrolled in the Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial for the treatment of SpS or DS. A comparison was made between patients with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 30 (“nonobese,” n = 373 SpS and 376 DS) and those with a BMI of 30 or more (“obese,” n = 261 SpS and 225 DS). Baseline patient characteristics, intraoperative data, and complications were documented. Primary and secondary outcomes were measured at baseline and regular follow-up time intervals up to 4 years. The difference in improvement over baseline between surgical and nonsurgical treatment (i.e., treatment effect) was determined at each follow-up interval for the obese and nonobese groups.


At 4-year follow-up, operative and nonoperative treatment provided improvement in all primary outcome measures over baseline in patients with BMI of less than 30 and 30 or more. For patients with SpS, there were no differences in the surgical complication or reoperation rates between groups. Patients with DS with BMI of 30 or more had a higher postoperative infection rate (5% vs. 1%, P = 0.05) and twice the reoperation rate at 4-year follow-up (20% vs. 11%, P = 0.01) than those with BMI of less than 30. At 4 years, surgical treatment of SpS and DS was equally effective in both BMI groups in terms of the primary outcome measures, with the exception that obese patients with DS had less improvement from baseline in the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) physical function score than nonobese patients (22.6 vs. 27.9, P = 0.022). With nonoperative treatment, patients with SpS with BMI of 30 or more did worse in regard to all 3 primary outcome measures, and patients with DS with BMI of 30 or more had similar SF-36 bodily pain scores but less improvement over baseline in the SF-36 physical function and Oswestry Disability Index scores. Treatment effects for SpS and DS were significant within each BMI group for all primary outcome measures in favor of surgery. Obese patients had a significantly greater treatment effect than nonobese patients with SpS (Oswestry Disability Index, P = 0.037) and DS (SF-36 PF, P = 0.004) largely due to the relatively poor outcome of nonoperative treatment in obese patients.


Obesity does not affect the clinical outcome of operative treatment of SpS. There are higher rates of infection and reoperation and less improvement from baseline in the SF-36 physical function score in obese patients after surgery for DS. Nonoperative treatment may not be as effective in obese patients with SpS or DS.

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