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The impact of frailty on postoperative complications in geriatric patients undergoing multi-level lumbar fusion surgery


Study design

Retrospective Cohort Study.


This study evaluates the impact of patient frailty status on postoperative complications in those undergoing multi-level lumbar fusion surgery.


The Nationwide Readmission Database (NRD) was retrospectively queried between 2016 and 2017 for patients receiving multi-level lumbar fusion surgery. Demographics, frailty status, and relevant complications were queried at index admission and readmission intervals. Primary outcome measures included perioperative complications and 30-, 90-, and 180-day complication and readmission rates. Perioperative complications of interest were infection, urinary tract infection (UTI), and posthemorrhagic anemia. Secondary outcome measures included inpatient length of stay (LOS), adjusted all-payer costs, and discharge disposition. Nearest-neighbor propensity score matching for demographics was implemented to identify non-frail patients with similar diagnoses and procedures. Subgroup analysis of minimally invasive surgery (MIS) versus open surgery within frail and non-frail cohorts was conducted to evaluate differences in surgical and medical complication rates. The analysis used nonparametric Mann–Whitney U testing and odds ratios.


Frail patients encountered higher rates perioperative complications including posthemorrhagic anemia (OR: 1.73, 95%CI 1.50–2.00, p < 0.0001), infection (OR: 2.94, 95%CI 2.04–4.36, p < 0.0001), UTI (OR: 2.57, 95%CI 2.04–3.26, p < 0.0001), and higher rates of non-routine discharge (OR: 2.07, 95%CI 1.80–2.38, p < 0.0001). Frail patients had significantly greater LOS and total all-payer inpatient costs compared to non-frail patients (p < 0.0001). Frailty was associated with significantly higher rates of 90- (OR: 1.43, 95%CI 1.18–1.74, p = 0.0003) and 180-day (OR: 1.28, 95%CI 1.03–1.60, p = 0.02) readmissions along with higher rates of wound dehiscence (OR: 2.21, 95%CI 1.17–4.44, p = 0.02) at 90 days. Subgroup analysis revealed that frail patients were at significantly higher risk for surgical complications with open surgery (16%) compared to MIS (0%, p < 0.0001). No significant differences were found between surgical approaches with respect to medical complications in both cohorts, nor surgical complications in non-frail patients.


Frailty was associated with higher odds of all perioperative complications, LOS, and all-payer costs following multi-level lumbar fusion. Frail patients had significantly higher rates of 90 and 180-day readmission and higher rates of wound disruption at 90-days. On subgroup analysis, MIS was associated with significantly reduced rates of surgical complications specifically in frail patients. Our results suggest frailty status to be an important predictor of perioperative complications and long-term readmissions in geriatric patients receiving multi-level lumbar fusions. Frail patients should undergo surgery utilizing minimally invasive techniques to minimize risk of surgical complications. Future studies should explore the utility of implementing frailty in risk stratification assessments for patients undergoing spine surgery.

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Fig. 1

Data availability

No patient identifiers were collected, as we used a publicly available nationally-representative database purchased through the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project website. No unique code was developed, and standard statistical software (RStudio) and tests were used.


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Correspondence to Zorica Buser.

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Conflict of interest

No conflicts of interest. Disclosures outside of submitted work: JCW—Royalties—Biomet, Seaspine, Synthes; Investments/Options—Bone Biologics, Pearldiver, Electrocore, Surgitech; Board of Directors—AO Foundation; Fellowship Funding (paid to institution): AO Foundation. ZB- consultancy: Cerapedics (past), The Scripps Research Institute (past), Xenco Medical (past), AO Spine (past); Research Support: SeaSpine (past, paid to the institution), Next Science (past, paid directly to institution), Medical Metrics (past, paid directly to institution); North American Spine Society: committee member; Lumbar Spine Society: Co-chair Educational Committee, AOSpine Knowledge Forum Degenerative: Associate member; AOSNA Research committee- committee member.

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Ton, A., Shahrestani, S., Saboori, N. et al. The impact of frailty on postoperative complications in geriatric patients undergoing multi-level lumbar fusion surgery. Eur Spine J 31, 1745–1753 (2022).

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  • Frailty
  • Lumbar, Fusion
  • Spine
  • Readmissions
  • Multi-level