Study design: A prospective randomized clinical study.
Objectives: To evaluate supplementary pedicle screw fixation (Cotrel-Dubousset) in posterolateral lumbar spinal fusion.
Summary of background data: The rationale behind lumbar fusion is to eliminate pathologic motion to relieve pain. To improve fusion rates and to allow reduction, a rigid transpedicular screw fixation may be beneficial, but the positive effect of this may be counter-balanced by an increase in complications.
Methods: The inclusion criteria were severe, chronic low back pain from spondylolisthesis Grades 1 and 2 or from primary or secondary degenerative segmental instability. One hundred thirty patients were randomly allocated to receive no instrumentation (n = 66) or Cotrel-Dubousset instrumentation (n = 64) in posterolateral lumbar fusion. Variables were registered at the time of surgery and at 1 and 2 years after surgery.
Results: Follow-up was achieved in 97.7% of the patients. Fusion rates deduced from plain radiographs were not significantly different between instrumented and noninstrumented groups. The functional outcome assessed by the Dallas Pain Questionnaire improved significantly in both groups, and there were no significant differences in results between the two groups, except for significantly better (P < 0.06) functional outcome in relation to daily activities in the instrumented group when neural decompression had been performed. The global patients' satisfaction was 82% in the instrumented group versus 74% in the noninstrumented group (not significant). Fixation of instrumentation increased operation time, blood loss, and early reoperation rate significantly. Patients experienced only a few minor postoperative complications; none were major. Two infections appeared in the Cotrel-Dubousset group. Significant symptoms from misplacement of pedicle screws were seen in 4.8% of the instrumented patients.
Conclusions: Lumbar posterolateral fusion with pedicle screw fixation increases the operation time, blood loss, and reoperation rate, and leads to a significant risk of nerve injury. The functional outcome improves significantly with high patient satisfaction, with or without instrumentation. No significant differences were observed between the two groups in functional outcome and fusion rate. The only gain in functional outcome from instrumentation was found in the daily activity category in patients with supplementary neural decompression. The results of this study do not justify the general use of pedicle screw fixation alone as an adjunct to posterolateral lumbar fusion.