European Spine Journal

, Volume 21, Issue 11, pp 2287–2299 | Cite as

Influence of lumbar intervertebral disc degeneration on the outcome of total lumbar disc replacement: a prospective clinical, histological, X-ray and MRI investigation

  • Christoph J. SiepeEmail author
  • Franziska Heider
  • Elisabeth Haas
  • Wolfgang Hitzl
  • Ulrike Szeimies
  • Axel Stäbler
  • Christoph Weiler
  • Andreas G. Nerlich
  • Michael H. Mayer
Original Article



The role of fusion of lumbar motion segments for the treatment of axial low back pain (LBP) from lumbar degenerative disc disease (DDD) without any true deformities or instabilities remains controversially debated. In an attempt to avoid previously published and fusion-related negative side effects, motion preserving technologies such as total lumbar disc replacement (TDR) have been introduced. The adequate extent of preoperative DDD for TDR remains unknown, the number of previously published studies is scarce and the limited data available reveal contradictory results. The goal of this current analysis was to perform a prospective histological, X-ray and MRI investigation of the index-segment’s degree of DDD and to correlate these data with each patient’s pre- and postoperative clinical outcome parameters from an ongoing prospective clinical trial with ProDisc II (Synthes, Paoli, USA).

Materials and methods

Nucleus pulposus (NP) and annulus fibrosus (AF) changes were evaluated according to a previously validated quantitative histological degeneration score (HDS). X-ray evaluation included assessment of the mean, anterior and posterior disc space height (DSH). MRI investigation of DDD was performed on a 5-scale grading system. The prospective clinical outcome assessment included Visual Analogue Scale (VAS), Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) scores as well as the patient’s subjective satisfaction rates.


Data from 51 patients with an average follow-up of 50.5 months (range 6.1–91.9 months) were included in the study. Postoperative VAS and ODI scores improved significantly in comparison to preoperative levels (p < 0.002). A significant correlation and interdependence was established between various parameters of DDD preoperatively (p < 0.05). Degenerative changes of NP tissue samples were significantly more pronounced in comparison to those of AF material (p < 0.001) with no significant correlation between each other (p > 0.05). Preoperatively, the extent of DDD was not significantly correlated with the patient’s symptomatology (p > 0.05). No negative influence was associated with increasing stages of DDD on the postoperative clinical outcome parameters following TDR (p > 0.05). Increasing stages of DDD in terms of lower DSH scores were not associated with inferior clinical results as outlined by postoperative VAS or ODI scores or the patient’s subjective outcome evaluation at the last FU examination (p > 0.05). Conversely, some potential positive effects on the postoperative outcome were observed in patients with advanced stages of preoperative DDD. Patients with more severe preoperative HDS scores of NP samples demonstrated significantly lower VAS scores during the early postoperative course (p = 0.02).


Increasing stages of DDD did not negatively impact on the outcome following TDR in a highly selected patient population. In particular, no preoperative DDD threshold value was identified from which an inferior postoperative outcome could have been deduced. Conversely, some positive effects on the postoperative outcome were detected in patients with advanced stages of DDD. Combined advantageous effects of progressive morphological structural rigidity of the index segment and restabilizing effects from larger distraction in degenerated segments may compensate for increasing axial rotational instability, one of TDR’s perceived disadvantages. Our data reveal a “therapeutic window” for TDR in a cohort of patients with various stages of DDD as long as preoperative facet joint complaints or degenerative facet arthropathies can be excluded and stringent preoperative decision making criteria are adhered to. Previously published absolute DSH values as contraindication against TDR should be reconsidered.


Total disc replacement Disc arthroplasty Disc degeneration Degenerative disc disease Histological degeneration 



The authors of this study would like to thank Pauline Jansen van Rensburg of “The Language Laboratory”, Munich, for the proof reading and editing of this article.

Conflict of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christoph J. Siepe
    • 1
    Email author
  • Franziska Heider
    • 1
  • Elisabeth Haas
    • 2
  • Wolfgang Hitzl
    • 3
  • Ulrike Szeimies
    • 4
  • Axel Stäbler
    • 4
  • Christoph Weiler
    • 5
  • Andreas G. Nerlich
    • 5
  • Michael H. Mayer
    • 1
  1. 1.Schön Klinik Munich HarlachingSpine CenterMunichGermany
  2. 2.Paracelsus Medical University SalzburgSalzburgAustria
  3. 3.Paracelsus Medical University Salzburg, Biostatistics, Research OfficeSalzburgAustria
  4. 4.Radiological Institute Munich-HarlachingMunichGermany
  5. 5.Institute of PathologyAcademic Teaching Hospital Munich-BogenhausenMunichGermany

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