The effectiveness of decompression alone compared with additional fusion for lumbar spinal stenosis with degenerative spondylolisthesis: a pragmatic comparative non-inferiority observational study from the Norwegian Registry for Spine Surgery

Ivar M Austevoll, Rolf Gjestad, Jens Ivar Brox, Tore K Solberg, Kjersti Storheim, Frode Rekeland, Erland Hermansen, Kari Indrekvam, Christian Hellum
European Spine Journal 2017, 26 (2): 404-413

PURPOSE: To evaluate the effect of adding fusion to decompression in patients operated for lumbar spinal stenosis with a concomitant lumbar degenerative spondylolisthesis.

METHODS: After propensity score matching, 260 patients operated with decompression and fusion and 260 patients operated with decompression alone were compared. Primary outcome measures were leg and back pain [Numeric Rating Scale (NRS), 0-10] and Oswestry Disability Index (ODI, 0-100) at 12 months.

RESULTS: At 12-month follow-up, the fusion group rated their pain significantly lower than the decompression alone group [leg pain 3.0 and 3.6, respectively, mean difference -0.6, 95 % confidence interval (CI) -1.2 to -0.05, p = 0.03 and back pain 3.3 and 3.9, respectively, mean difference -0.6, 95 % CI -1.1 to -0.1, p = 0.02]. ODI was not significantly different between the groups (21.0 versus 23.3, mean difference -2.3, 95 % CI -5.8 to 1.1, p = 0.18). Seventy-four percent of the fusion group and 63 % of the decompression alone group achieved a clinically important improvement in back pain (difference in proportion of responders = 11 %, 95 % CI 2-20 %, p = 0.01), corresponding to a number needed to treat of 9 patients (95 % CI 5-50). There was no significant difference in responder rate for leg pain (74 and 67 %, respectively, difference 7 %, 95 % CI -1 to 16 %, p = 0.09) or for ODI (67 and 59 %, respectively, difference 8 %, 95 % CI 0-18 %, p = 0.06). The duration of surgery and hospital stay was longer for the fusion group (mean difference 68 min, 95 % CI 58-78, p < 0.01 and mean difference 4.2 days, 95 % CI 3.5-4.8, p < 0.01).

CONCLUSION: In the present non-inferiority study, we cannot conclude that decompression alone is as good as decompression with additional fusion. However, the small differences in the groups' effect sizes suggest that a considerable number of patients can be treated with decompression alone. A challenge in future studies will be to find the best treatment option for each patient.


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