Factors influencing upper-most instrumented vertebrae selection in adult spinal deformity patients: qualitative case-based survey of deformity surgeons

J Spine Surg. 2021 Mar;7(1):37-47. doi: 10.21037/jss-20-598.


Background: The decision upper-most instrumented vertebrae (UIV) in a multi-level fusion procedure can dramatically influence outcomes of corrective spine surgery. We aimed to create an algorithm for selection of UIV based on surgeon selection/reasoning of sample cases.

Methods: The clinical/imaging data for 11 adult spinal deformity (ASD) patients were presented to 14 spine deformity surgeons who selected the UIV and provided reasons for avoidance of adjacent levels. The UIV chosen was grouped into either upper thoracic (UT, T1-T6), lower thoracic (LT, T7-T12), lumbar or cervical. Disagreement between surgeons was defined as ≥3 not agreeing. We performed a descriptive analysis of responses and created an algorithm for choosing UIV then applied this to a large database of ASD patients.

Results: Surgeons agreed in 8/11 cases on regional choice of UIV. T10 was the most common UIV in the LT region (58%) and T3 was the most common UIV in the UT region (44%). The most common determinant of UIV in the UT region was proximal thoracic kyphosis and presence of coronal deformity. The most common determinant of UIV in the LT region was small proximal thoracic kyphosis. Within the ASD database (236 patients), when the algorithm called for UT fusion, patients fused to TL region were more likely to develop proximal junctional kyphosis (PJK) at 1 year post-operatively (76.9% vs. 38.9%, P=0.025).

Conclusions: Our algorithm for selection of UIV emphasizes the role of proximal and regional thoracic kyphosis. Failure to follow this consensus for UT fusion was associated with twice the rate of PJK.

Keywords: Upper instrumented vertebra; adult spinal deformity (ASD); long fusion; proximal junctional kyphosis; spinal instrumentation; surgery.