Inge J. M. H. Caelers, Anne F. Mannion, Daniel Haschtmann, Kim Rijkers, Wouter L. W. van Hemert, Rob A. de Bie, Henk van Santbrink

October 2022, pp 1 - 13 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-022-07403-8

First Online: 29 October 2022


Symptomatic lumbar spinal stenosis can be treated with decompression surgery. A recent review reported that, after decompression surgery, 1.6–32.0% of patients develop postoperative symptomatic spondylolisthesis and may therefore be indicated for lumbar fusion surgery. The latter can be more challenging due to the altered anatomy and scar tissue. It remains unclear why some patients get recurrent neurological complaints due to postoperative symptomatic spondylolisthesis, though some associations have been suggested. This study explores the association between key demographic, biological and radiological factors and postoperative symptomatic spondylolisthesis after lumbar decompression.


This retrospective cohort study included patients who had undergone lumbar spinal decompression surgery between January 2014 and December 2016 at one of two Spine Centres in the Netherlands or Switzerland and had a follow-up of two years. Patient characteristics, details of the surgical procedure and recurrent neurological complaints were retrieved from patient files. Preoperative MRI scans and conventional radiograms (CRs) of the lumbar spine were evaluated for multiple morphological characteristics. Postoperative spondylolisthesis was evaluated on postoperative MRI scans. For variables assessed on a whole patient basis, patients with and without postoperative symptomatic spondylolisthesis were compared. For variables assessed on the basis of the operated segment(s), surgical levels that did or did not develop postoperative spondylolisthesis were compared. Univariable and multivariable logistic regression analyses were used to identify associations with postoperative symptomatic spondylolisthesis.


Seven hundred and sixteen patients with 1094 surgical levels were included in the analyses. (In total, 300 patients had undergone multilevel surgery.) ICCs for intraobserver and interobserver reliability of CR and MRI variables ranged between 0.81 and 0.99 and 0.67 and 0.97, respectively. In total, 66 of 716 included patients suffered from postoperative symptomatic spondylolisthesis (9.2%). Multivariable regression analyses of patient-basis variables showed that being female [odds ratio (OR) 1.2, 95%CI 1.07–3.09] was associated with postoperative symptomatic spondylolisthesis. Higher BMI (OR 0.93, 95%CI 0.88–0.99) was associated with a lower probability of having postoperative symptomatic spondylolisthesis.

Multivariable regression analyses of surgical level-basis variables showed that levels with preoperative spondylolisthesis (OR 17.30, 95%CI 10.27–29.07) and the level of surgery, most importantly level L4L5 compared with levels L1L3 (OR 2.80, 95%CI 0.78–10.08), were associated with postoperative symptomatic spondylolisthesis; greater facet joint angles (i.e. less sagittal-oriented facets) were associated with a lower probability of postoperative symptomatic spondylolisthesis (OR 0.97, 95%CI 0.95–0.99).


Being female was associated with a higher probability of having postoperative symptomatic spondylolisthesis, while having a higher BMI was associated with a lower probability. When looking at factors related to postoperative symptomatic spondylolisthesis at the surgical level, preoperative spondylolisthesis, more sagittal orientated facet angles and surgical level (most significantly level L4L5 compared to levels L1L3) showed significant associations. These associations could be used as a basis for devising patient selection criteria, stratifying patients or performing subgroup analyses in future studies regarding decompression surgery with or without fusion.

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