Objective measurement of function following lumbar spinal stenosis decompression reveals improved functional capacity with stagnant real-life physical activity

Spine J. 2018 Jan;18(1):15-21. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2017.08.262. Epub 2017 Sep 28.


Background context: Lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS) is a prevalent and costly condition associated with significant dysfunction. Alleviation of pain and improvement of function are the primary goals of surgical intervention. Although prior studies have measured subjective improvements in function after surgery, few have examined objective markers of functional improvement.

Purpose: We aimed to objectively measure and quantify changes in physical capacity and physical performance following surgical decompression of LSS.

Study design/setting: Prospective cohort study.

Patient sample: Thirty-eight patients with LSS determined by the treating surgeon's clinical and imaging evaluation, and who were scheduled for surgical treatment, were consecutively recruited at two academic medical facilities, with 28 providing valid data for analysis at baseline and 6 months after surgery.

Outcome measures: Before surgery and at 6 months after surgery, participants provided 7 days of real-life physical activity (performance) using ActiGraph accelerometers; completed two objective functional capacity measures, the Short Physical Performance Battery and Self-Paced Walking Test; and completed three subjective functional outcome questionnaires, Oswestry Disability Index, Spinal Stenosis Symptom Questionnaire, and Short-Form 36.

Methods: Physical activity, as measured by continuous activity monitoring, was analyzed as previously described according to the 2008 American Physical Activity Guidelines. Paired t tests were performed to assess for postsurgical changes in all questionnaire outcomes and all objective functional capacity measures. Chi-square analysis was used to categorically assess whether patients were more likely to meet these physical activity recommendations after surgery.

Results: Participants were 70.1 years old (±8.9) with 17 females (60.7%) and an average body mass index of 28.4 (±6.2). All subjective measures (Oswestry Disability Index, Spinal Stenosis Symptom Questionnaire, and Short-Form 36) improved significantly at 6 months after surgery, as did objective functional measures of capacity including balance, gait speed, and ambulation distance (Short Physical Performance Battery, Self-Paced Walking Test). However, objectively measured performance (real-life physical activity) did not change following surgery. Although fewer participants qualified as inactive (54% vs. 71%), and more (11% vs. 4%) met the physical activity guideline recommendations at the 6-month follow-up, these differences were not statistically significant (p=.22) CONCLUSIONS: This is the first study, of which we are aware, to objectively evaluate changes in postsurgical performance (real-life physical activity) in people with LSS. We found that at 6 months after surgery for LSS, participants demonstrated significant improvements in self-reported function and objectively measured physical capacity, but not physical performance as measured by continuous activity monitoring. This lack of improvement in performance, despite improvements in self-reported function and objective capacity, suggests a role for postoperative rehabilitation focused specifically on increasing performance after surgery in the LSS population.

Keywords: Capacity; Function; Lumbar spinal stenosis; Outcome; Performance; Physical activity; Surgery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Decompression, Surgical / adverse effects*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuromuscular Monitoring / standards*
  • Postoperative Complications / diagnosis*
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Spinal Stenosis / surgery*