Objective: The aim of the study was to investigate the incremental diagnostic value of skeletal hybrid imaging with single-photon emission computed tomography and X-ray computed tomography (SPECT/CT) over conventional nuclear medical imaging in patients with lower back pain after lumbar fusion surgery (LFS).
Patients and methods: This retrospective study comprised 37 patients suffering from lower back pain after LFS in whom three-phase planar bone scintigraphies of the lumbar spine including SPECT/CT of that region had been performed. The findings visible on these imaging data sets were classified into the following five diagnostic categories: (a) metal loosening; (b) insufficient stabilizing function of the metal implants indicated by metabolically active facet joint arthritis and/or intervertebral osteochondrosis in the instrumented region; (c) adjacent instability defined as metabolically active degenerative disease in the segments adjacent to the instrumented region; (d) indeterminate; and (e) normal.
Results: In the case of eight patients no lesions were visible on their planar scintigraphy and SPECT (planar/SPECT) or SPECT/CT images. In the remaining 29 patients, planar/SPECT disclosed 62 pathological foci of uptake within the graft region and SPECT/CT revealed 55. The rate of reclassification by SPECT/CT compared with planar/SPECT was 5/12 for lesions categorized as metal loosening by planar/SPECT, 16/29 for foci with a planar/SPECT diagnosis of insufficient stabilizing function, 7/20 when the planar/SPECT diagnosis had been adjacent instability, and 1/1 for the lesions indeterminate on planar/SPECT. Two lesions had been detected on SPECT/CT only. The overall rate of reclassification was 45.2% (28/62) (95% confidence interval, 33.4–57.5%).
Conclusion: Because of its significantly higher accuracy compared with planar/SPECT, SPECT/CT should be the conventional nuclear medical procedure of choice for patients with lower back pain after LFS.