Randomized controlled trial.
To analyze long-term adjacent segment degeneration (ASD) after lumbar fusion on magnetic resonance imaging and compare randomization groups with and without anterior column support.
Summary of Background Data.
ASD can be a long-term complication after fusion. The prevalence and the cause of ASD are not well documented, but ASD are one of the main arguments for introducing the use of motion-preserving techniques as an alternative to fusion. Anterior lumbar interbody fusion combined with posterolateral lumbar fusion (ALIF+PLF) has been proved superior to posterolateral fusion alone regarding outcome and cost-effectiveness.
Between 1996 and 1999, 148 patients with severe chronic low back pain were randomly selected for ALIF+PLF or for PLF alone. Ninety-five patients participated. ASD was examined on magnetic resonance imaging with regard to disc degeneration, disc herniation, stenosis, and endplate changes. Disc heights on radiographs taken at index surgery and at long-term follow-up were compared. Outcome was assessed by validated questionnaires.
The follow-up rate was 76%. ASD was similar between randomization groups. In the total cohort, endplate changes were seen in 26% of the participants and correlated significantly with the presence of disc degeneration and disc herniation. Disc degeneration and dorsal disc herniation were the parameters registered most frequently and were significantly more pronounced at the first adjacent level than at the second and the third adjacent levels. Patients without disc height reduction over time were significantly younger than patients with disc height reduction. Disc degeneration and stenosis correlated significantly with outcome at the first adjacent level.
The cause of the superior outcome in the group with anterior support is still unclear. Compared with the findings reported in the literature, the prevalence of ASD is likely to be in concordance with the expected changes in a nonoperated symptomatic population and therefore not accelerated by fusion.