Etiology of chronic low back pain in patients having undergone lumbar fusion

Pain Med. 2011 May;12(5):732-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2011.01098.x. Epub 2011 Apr 11.


Objective: To estimate the prevalence of lumbar internal disc disruption, zygapohyseal joint pain, sacroiliac joint pain, and soft tissue irritation by fusion hardware in post-fusion low back pain patients compared with non-fused patients utilizing diagnostic spinal procedures.

Design: Retrospective chart review.

Setting: University spine center.

Patient sample: Patients presenting to a community-based, multidisciplinary, academic spine center (65.9% female, mean age 54.4 years, median pain duration 12 months).

Interventions: Charts of consecutive low back pain cases completing diagnostic spinal procedures including provocation discography and zygapohyseal joint, sacroiliac joint, and fusion hardware blockade were retrospectively reviewed.

Outcome measures: Based on the results of discography and/or diagnostic blockades, subjects were classified with internal disc disruption, zygapohyseal joint pain, sacroiliac joint pain, or fusion hardware related pain.

Results: The diagnoses of 28 fusion cases identified from 170 low back pain patients undergoing diagnostic procedures included 12 with sacroiliac joint pain, seven with internal disc disruption, five with zygapohyseal joint pain, and four due to soft tissue irritation from fusion hardware. No significant differences were noted in zygapohyseal joint mediated pain with and without fusion history. Mean ages of patients were similar with and without fusion history for cases diagnosed as internal disc disruption.

Conclusion: In patients' recalcitrant to non-interventional care, the sacroiliac joint is the most likely source of low back pain after lumbar fusion followed by internal disc disruption, zygapohyseal joint pain, and soft tissue irritation due to fusion hardware. Sacroiliac joint pain is more common after fusion, while internal disc disruption is more common in non-fusion patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / complications
  • Joint Diseases / complications
  • Low Back Pain / diagnosis
  • Low Back Pain / etiology*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery*
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sacroiliac Joint / pathology
  • Spinal Fusion* / adverse effects
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Zygapophyseal Joint / pathology