Decompression Versus Decompression and Fusion for Degenerative Lumbar Stenosis in a Workers’ Compensation Setting

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Study Design.

A retrospective cohort study.


The aim of this study was to compare outcomes in Workers’ compensation (WC) subjects receiving decompression alone versus decompression and fusion for the indication of degenerative spinal stenosis (DLS) without deformity or instability.

Summary of Background Data.

The use of a fusion procedure during lumbar decompression for DLS alone remains controversial. We hypothesize that WC subjects receiving fusion and decompression will return to work less and incur greater medical costs than subjects receiving decompression alone.


Three hundred sixty-four Ohio WC subjects were identified who underwent primary decompression (DC) or primary decompression and fusion (DC + F) for DLS alone between 1993 and 2013. Our primary outcome was if patients were able to make a stable return to work (RTW). The authors classified subjects as RTW if they returned within 2 years after surgery and remained working for more than 6 months. A number of secondary outcomes were collected and analyzed.


The DC cohort had a significantly higher RTW rate [36% (83/227) vs. 25% (54/212); P = 0.01]. A logistic regression was performed to identify independent variables that predicted RTW status. Our regression model showed that fusion with operative decompression remained a significant negative predictor of RTW status (P = 0.04; odds ratio: 0.58, 95% confidence interval: 0.34–0.99). Within the DC cohort, the rate of postoperative instability and subsequent fusion was 8%. Furthermore, subjects who received an adjunctive fusion cost of the Ohio BWC on average, $46,115 more in costs accrued over 3 years after their index surgery compared with subjects who received a decompression alone.


Overall, fusion with decompression had a significantly negative impact on clinical outcomes in WC subjects with DLS. These results demonstrate the high risk of postoperative morbidity associated with fusion procedures and underscore the need to strongly reevaluate the use of fusion for DLS without instability in the WC population.


Level of Evidence: 3

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