Minimally invasive trans-sacral approach to L5-S1 interbody fusion: Preliminary results from 1 center and review of the literature

Int J Spine Surg. 2012 Dec 1;6:110-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ijsp.2011.12.005. eCollection 2012.


Background: Lumbar interbody fusion has long been used for the treatment of painful degenerative spinal conditions. The anterior approach is not feasible in some patients, and the posterior approach is associated with a risk of neural complications and possibly muscle injury. A trans-sacral technique was developed that allows access to the L5-S1 disc space. The purposes of this study were to investigate the clinical outcome of trans-sacral interbody fusion in a consecutive series of patients from 1 center and to perform a comprehensive review of the literature on this procedure.

Methods: A literature search using PubMed was performed to identify articles published on trans-sacral axial lumbar interbody fusion (AxiaLIF). Articles reviewed included biomechanical testing, feasibility of the technique, and clinical results. The data from our center were collected retrospectively from charts for the consecutive series, beginning with the first case, of all patients undergoing fusion using the AxiaLIF technique. In most cases, posterior instrumentation was also used. A total of 41 patients with at least 6 months' follow-up were included (mean follow-up, 22.2 months). The primary clinical outcome measures were visual analog scales separately assessing back and leg pain and the Oswestry Disability Index. Radiographic assessment of fusion was also performed.

Results: In the group of 28 patients undergoing single-level AxiaLIF combined with posterior fusion, the visual analog scale scores assessing back and leg pain and mean Oswestry Disability Index scores improved significantly (P < .01). In the remaining 13 patients, back pain improved significantly with a trend for improvement in leg pain. Reoperation occurred in 19.5% of patients; in half of these, reoperation was not related to the anterior procedure.

Conclusions: A review of the literature found that the AxiaLIF technique was similar to other fusion techniques with respect to biomechanical properties and produced acceptable clinical outcomes, although results varied among studies.

Clinical relevance: The AxiaLIF approach allows access to the L5-S1 interspace without violating the annulus or longitudinal ligaments and with minimal risk to dorsal neural elements. It may be a viable alternative to other approaches to interbody fusion at the L5-S1 level. It is important that the patients be selected carefully and surgeons are familiar with the presacral anatomy and the surgical approach.

Keywords: Clinical outcome; Interbody fusion; Lumbar spine; Review; Trans-sacral approach.