The fate of the adjacent motion segments after lumbar fusion

J Spinal Disord Tech. 2003 Aug;16(4):338-45. doi: 10.1097/00024720-200308000-00005.


Lumbar spine fusion is a commonly performed procedure in various pathologic conditions of the spine. Its role remains debated, and moreover, delayed complications may occur, among which is transitional segment alteration leading to recurrence of back pain, gross instability, and neurologic symptoms. Little is known about the long-term prevalence of this complication because of a lack of specific studies. We analyzed the fate of the transitional segments in a homogeneous group of patients operated on during a 14-year period for degenerative conditions of the lumbar spine resistant to conservative treatment. Follow-up ranged from 2 to 15 years. Seventy-five percent of our study group had a minimal 5-year follow-up. In this subgroup, 41% of the patients developed transitional segment alterations, and 20% needed a secondary operation for extension of the fusion. Potential risk factors such as postoperative delay, length of fusion, and spine imbalance were recognized. The frequency of delayed alterations of the adjacent segment and the severity of symptoms related to this complication in this study raise questions about the justification of fusion procedures in degenerative conditions of the spine without threatening instability. Data from the literature confirm the severity of the problem, but many uncertainties remain because of the lack of homogeneous and complete data on both the normal evolution of motion segments of the lumbar spine with age and the fate of the same segments when transformed in transitional segments. Future prospective studies on the subject are needed and must deal with homogeneous groups of patients. More reconstructive surgical procedures need to be developed to lessen the need for fusion procedures.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / diagnosis*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / surgery*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motion
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / surgery*
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Reoperation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Fusion / methods*
  • Treatment Failure