S. S. Madan, N. R. Boeree


August 2003, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 567 - 575 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-002-0516-5

First Online: 28 August 2003

Posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF) restores disc height, the load bearing ability of anterior ligaments and muscles, root canal dimensions, and spinal balance. It immobilizes the painful degenerate spinal segment and decompresses the nerve roots. Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) does the same, but could have complications of graft extrusion, compression and instability contributing to pseudarthrosis in the absence of instrumentation. The purpose of this study was to assess and compare the outcome of instrumented circumferential fusion through a posterior approach [PLIF and posterolateral fusion (PLF)] with instrumented ALIF using the Hartshill horseshoe cage, for comparable degrees of internal disc disruption and clinical disability. It was designed as a prospective study, comparing the outcome of two methods of instrumented interbody fusion for internal disc disruption. Between April 1994 and June 1998, the senior author (N.R.B.) performed 39 instrumented ALIF procedures and 35 instrumented circumferential fusion with PLIF procedures. The second author, an independent assessor (S.M.), performed the entire review. Preoperative radiographic assessment included plain radiographs, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and provocative discography in all the patients. The outcome in the two groups was compared in terms of radiological improvement and clinical improvement, measured on the basis of improvement of back pain and work capacity. Preoperatively, patients were asked to fill out a questionnaire giving their demographic details, maximum walking distance and current employment status in order to establish the comparability of the two groups. Patient assessment was with the Oswestry Disability Index, quality of life questionnaire (subjective), pain drawing, visual analogue scale, disability benefit, compensation status, and psychological profile. The results of the study showed a satisfactory outcome (score≤30) on the subjective (quality of life questionnaire) score of 71.8% (28 patients) in the ALIF group and 74.3% (26 patients) in the PLIF group (P>0.05). On categorising Oswestry Index scores into "excellent", "better", "same", and "worse", we found no difference in outcome between the two groups: 79.5% (n=31) had satisfactory outcome with ALIF and 80% (n=28) had satisfactory outcome with PLIF. The rate of return to work was no different in the two groups. On radiological assessment, we found two nonunions in the circumferential fusion (PLIF) group (94.3% fusion rate) and indirect evidence of no nonunions in the ALIF group. There was no significant difference between the compensation rate and disability benefit rate between the two groups. There were three complications in ALIF group and four in the PLIF (circumferential) group. On the basis of these results, we conclude that it is possible to treat discogenic back pain by anterior interbody fusion with Hartshill horseshoe cage or with circumferential fusion using instrumented PLIF.


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