Malcolm E. Dombrowski, Bryan Rynearson, Clarissa LeVasseur, Zach Adgate, William F. Donaldson, Joon Y. Lee, Ameet Aiyangar, William J. Anderst

March 2018, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 752 - 762 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-018-5489-0

First Online: 22 February 2018


Degenerative spondylolisthesis (DS) in the setting of symptomatic lumbar spinal stenosis is commonly treated with spinal fusion in addition to decompression with laminectomy. However, recent studies have shown similar clinical outcomes after decompression alone, suggesting that a subset of DS patients may not require spinal fusion. Identification of dynamic instability could prove useful for predicting which patients are at higher risk of post-laminectomy destabilization necessitating fusion. The goal of this study was to determine if static clinical radiographs adequately characterize dynamic instability in patients with lumbar degenerative spondylolisthesis (DS) and to compare the rotational and translational kinematics in vivo during continuous dynamic flexion activity in DS versus asymptomatic age-matched controls.


Seven patients with symptomatic single level lumbar DS (6 M, 1 F; 66 ± 5.0 years) and seven age-matched asymptomatic controls (5 M, 2 F age 63.9 ± 6.4 years) underwent biplane radiographic imaging during continuous torso flexion. A volumetric model-based tracking system was used to track each vertebra in the radiographic images using subject-specific 3D bone models from high-resolution computed tomography (CT). In vivo continuous dynamic sagittal rotation (flexion/extension) and AP translation (slip) were calculated and compared to clinical measures of intervertebral flexion/extension and AP translation obtained from standard lateral flexion/extension radiographs.


Static clinical radiographs underestimate the degree of AP translation seen on dynamic in vivo imaging (1.0 vs 3.1 mm; p = 0.03). DS patients demonstrated three primary motion patterns compared to a single kinematic pattern in asymptomatic controls when analyzing continuous dynamic in vivo imaging. 3/7 (42%) of patients with DS demonstrated aberrant mid-range motion.


Continuous in vivo dynamic imaging in DS reveals a spectrum of aberrant motion with significantly greater kinematic heterogeneity than previously realized that is not readily seen on current clinical imaging.

Level of evidence

Level V data

Graphical abstract

These slides can be retrieved under Electronic Supplementary Material.[Figure not available: see fulltext.]

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