A Comparison of Radiographic Findings in Fusion and Nonfusion Patients Ten or More Years Following Lumbar Disc Surgery

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Abstract

Ninety-six patients who had undergone disc excision and midline spinal fusion and 36 patients who had had simple disc excision had spinal radiographs made 10 or more years postoperatively. Claw spurs were found most commonly at the L2-3 and L3-4 levels in fusion patients, particularly male laborers. Traction spurs with segmental hypermobility were found more commonly at the L4-5 level in patients whose spines were not fused, particularly women. Total lumbar flexion-extension was greater in nonfusion than in fusion patients, but the L1 - 3 mobility was greater in those who had undergone fusion, suggesting a compensatory increase in the range of lumbar motion. Segmental mobility at levels of surgery in nonfusion patients was similar in those with good and those with poor clinical results. Disc space narrowing was common at levels of operation, but did not correspond to the clinical result. Pseudarthrosis was demonstrated in 26% of fusion patients, but was of no clinical significance. Although complex radiographic changes follow lumbar disc surgery, with or without failure, it is concluded that the plane radiograph is of little aid in determining the source of postoperative pain. The sole exception is that of acquired spondylolysis, which was found in 2.5% of this group of fusion patients, and was clearly associated with a poor clinical outcome. Symptomatic degenerative disc disease at levels above lumbar spinal fusions appears to be an uncommon clinical problem.

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