An evidence-based clinical guideline for the diagnosis and treatment of degenerative lumbar spondylolisthesis

William C Watters, Christopher M Bono, Thomas J Gilbert, D Scott Kreiner, Daniel J Mazanec, William O Shaffer, Jamie Baisden, John E Easa, Robert Fernand, Gary Ghiselli, Michael H Heggeness, Richard C Mendel, Conor O'Neill, Charles A Reitman, Daniel K Resnick, Jeffrey T Summers, Reuben B Timmons, John F Toton
Spine Journal: Official Journal of the North American Spine Society 2009, 9 (7): 609-14

BACKGROUND CONTEXT: The objective of the North American Spine Society (NASS) evidence-based clinical guideline on the diagnosis and treatment of degenerative lumbar spondylolisthesis is to provide evidence-based recommendations on key clinical questions concerning the diagnosis and treatment of degenerative lumbar spondylolisthesis. The guideline is intended to address these questions based on the highest quality clinical literature available on this subject as of January 2007. The goal of the guideline recommendations is to assist the practitioner in delivering optimum, efficacious treatment of and functional recovery from this common disorder.

PURPOSE: To provide an evidence-based, educational tool to assist spine care providers in improving the quality and efficiency of care delivered to patients with degenerative lumbar spondylolisthesis.

STUDY DESIGN: Systematic review and evidence-based clinical guideline.

METHODS: This report is from the Degenerative Lumbar Spondylolisthesis Work Group of the NASS Evidence-Based Clinical Guideline Development Committee. The work group was comprised of multidisciplinary spine care specialists, all of whom were trained in the principles of evidence-based analysis. Each member participated in the development of a series of clinical questions to be addressed by the group. The final questions agreed on by the group are the subject of this report. A literature search addressing each question and using a specific search protocol was performed on English language references found in MEDLINE, EMBASE (Drugs and Pharmacology) and four additional, evidence-based, databases. The relevant literature was then independently rated by at least three reviewers using the NASS-adopted standardized levels of evidence. An evidentiary table was created for each of the questions. Final grades of recommendation for the answer to each clinical question were arrived at via face-to-face meetings among members of the work group using standardized grades of recommendation. When Level I-IV evidence was insufficient to support a recommendation to answer a specific clinical question, expert consensus was arrived at by the work group through the modified nominal group technique and is clearly identified as such in the guideline.

RESULTS: Nineteen clinical questions were formulated, addressing issues of prognosis, diagnosis, and treatment of degenerative lumbar spondylolisthesis. The answers to these 19 clinical questions are summarized in this document. The respective recommendations were graded by the strength of the supporting literature that was stratified by levels of evidence.

CONCLUSIONS: A clinical guideline for degenerative lumbar spondylolisthesis has been created using the techniques of evidence-based medicine and using the best available evidence as a tool to aid practitioners involved with the care of this condition. The entire guideline document, including the evidentiary tables, suggestions for future research, and all references, is available electronically at the NASS Web site ( and will remain updated on a timely schedule.

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