Background: The comparative effectiveness of performing instrumented (rigid pedicle screws affixed to titanium alloy rods) lumbar spinal fusion in addition to decompressive laminectomy in patients with symptomatic lumbar grade I degenerative spondylolisthesis with spinal stenosis is unknown.
Methods: In this randomized, controlled trial, we assigned patients, 50 to 80 years of age, who had stable degenerative spondylolisthesis (degree of spondylolisthesis, 3 to 14 mm) and symptomatic lumbar spinal stenosis to undergo either decompressive laminectomy alone (decompression-alone group) or laminectomy with posterolateral instrumented fusion (fusion group). The primary outcome measure was the change in the physical-component summary score of the Medical Outcomes Study 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36; range, 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating better quality of life) 2 years after surgery. The secondary outcome measure was the score on the Oswestry Disability Index (range, 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more disability related to back pain). Patients were followed for 4 years.
Results: A total of 66 patients (mean age, 67 years; 80% women) underwent randomization. The rate of follow-up was 89% at 1 year, 86% at 2 years, and 68% at 4 years. The fusion group had a greater increase in SF-36 physical-component summary scores at 2 years after surgery than did the decompression-alone group (15.2 vs. 9.5, for a difference of 5.7; 95% confidence interval, 0.1 to 11.3; P=0.046). The increases in the SF-36 physical-component summary scores in the fusion group remained greater than those in the decompression-alone group at 3 years and at 4 years (P=0.02 for both years). With respect to reductions in disability related to back pain, the changes in the Oswestry Disability Index scores at 2 years after surgery did not differ significantly between the study groups (-17.9 in the decompression-alone group and -26.3 in the fusion group, P=0.06). More blood loss and longer hospital stays occurred in the fusion group than in the decompression-alone group (P<0.001 for both comparisons). The cumulative rate of reoperation was 14% in the fusion group and 34% in the decompression-alone group (P=0.05).
Conclusions: Among patients with degenerative grade I spondylolisthesis, the addition of lumbar spinal fusion to laminectomy was associated with slightly greater but clinically meaningful improvement in overall physical health-related quality of life than laminectomy alone. (Funded by the Jean and David Wallace Foundation and others; SLIP ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00109213.).