Background context: The surgical treatment for low-grade isthmic spondylolisthesis in adults with intractable lumbar pain is usually spinal fusion. It has been postulated that anterior column reconstruction may be relatively advantageous in those patients with unstable slips.
Purpose: To compare the early and medium term treatment efficacy of two common fusion techniques in isthmic spondylolisthesis.
Study design/setting: Prospective controlled trial comparing single-level posterior-lateral instrumented fusion with combined anterior and posterior-lateral instrumented fusion in sequential matched cohorts of patients with radiographically unstable isthmic spondylolisthesis.
Outcome measures: Primary outcome measure of success was an Oswestry Disability Index (ODI)<or=20. Secondary outcome measures included patient determined minimum-acceptable outcome on four questionnaires: pain intensity (visual analog scale), ODI, medication intake, and work status. Radiographic outcome of fusion was determined by radiographic union and motion on flexion/extension X-rays. Risk ratios (RRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated for primary outcome of success for combined fusion compared with posterior fusion.
Methods: The study was conducted over a 6-year period. The first cohort of 50 consecutive patients was treated with a single-level instrumented posterior-lateral fusion; the second sequential cohort was treated with an anterior interbody fusion and the same posterior operation. Observations were made at baseline, 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years after surgery. Final radiographic assessment was made at 2 years after surgery.
Results: Baseline demographic and clinical factors were well-matched in the two cohorts. At 2 years, 46 posterior-only fusion subjects and 47 combined fusion subjects completed the full follow-up regimen. Outcomes were better by all measures at 6 months and 12 months in the anterior-posterior cohort. Comparing the primary outcome measure (ODI outcome<or=20) in the posterior versus the combined groups, success was achieved at 6 months in 11 versus 30 (RR=2.67, 95% CI 1.53, 4.67; p=.0001); at 1 year, 20 versus 34 (RR=1.66, 95% CI 1.14, 2.42; p<.005); and at 2 years, 29 versus 36 subjects (RR=1.21, 95% CI 0.93, 1.59; p=.14). At 6 months, 13 posterior-only and 25 combined group subjects had returned to work (RR 1.88, 95% CI 1.10, 3.21; p=.01). More patients achieved their preoperatively determined minimum-acceptable outcome at each time point. There were three nonunions in the posterior-alone cohort and one in the combined group. Serious complications and reoperations were similar in both groups.
Conclusion: Outcomes up to 2 years were superior by clinically important differences after a combined anterior-posterior operation compared with posterior-alone surgery for unstable spondylolisthesis; however, between-group differences attenuated appreciably after 6 months. The apparent clinical and occupational benefits of combined fusion should be considered along with possible increases in minor complications and procedure-related costs.