Long-term follow-up of functional outcomes and radiographic changes at adjacent levels following lumbar spine fusion for degenerative disc disease
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There are very few studies with more than 20 years' follow-up of lumbar spine fusions for disc degeneration. Currently, there is a lot of interest in the subject of degenerative changes above the level of fusion; this study is concerned with such changes in the very long term (30 years). Twenty-eight patients showing sound fusion on radiographs following posterior midline spinal fusion performed by a single surgeon between 1968 and 1970 were compared with an age- and gender-matched group of 28 patients who had undergone surgery for degenerative disc disease without fusion during the same period, by the same surgeon and using similar criteria for evaluation (Short Form 36 and Oswestry Disability Index; functional testing using self-paced walk and timed up-and-go; flexion and extension lateral radiographs of the lumbar spine). In this study, the incidence of radiographic changes at levels above the level of previous involvement was twice as high in the fusion group as in the non-fusion group. However, there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups in the outcomes measured using validated scales and functional testing. The study emphasises the importance of complete evaluation of these patients using validated outcome measurement instruments against the background of radiographic changes and subjective assessment of back pain. It also shows that radiographic changes do not necessarily mean functional impairment in all patients following lumbar spine fusion for degenerative disc disease.
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