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Edward C. Benzel and Zoher Ghogawala

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Claire Blumenthal, Jill Curran, Edward C. Benzel, Rachel Potter, Subu N. Magge, J. Frederick Harrington Jr., Jean-Valery Coumans and Zoher Ghogawala


It is not known whether adding fusion to lumbar decompression is necessary for all patients undergoing surgery for degenerative lumbar spondylolisthesis with symptomatic stenosis. Determining specific radiographic traits that might predict delayed instability following decompression surgery might guide clinical decision making regarding the utility of up-front fusion in patients with degenerative Grade I spondylolisthesis.


Patients with Grade I degenerative lumbar spondylolisthesis (3–14 mm) with symptomatic stenosis were prospectively enrolled from a single site between May 2002 and September 2009 and treated with decompressive laminectomy without fusion. Patients with mechanical back pain or with gross motion (> 3 mm) on flexion-extension lumbar radiographs were excluded. The baseline radiographic variables measured included amount of slippage, disc height, facet angle, motion at spondylolisthesis (flexion-extension), and sagittal rotation angle. Data were analyzed using multivariate forward selection stepwise logistic regression, chi-square tests, Student t-test, and ANOVA.


Forty patients were enrolled and treated with laminectomy without fusion, and all patients had complete radiographic data sets that were available for analysis. Reoperation was performed in 15 (37.5%) of 40 patients, with a mean follow-up duration of 3.6 years. Reoperation was performed for pain caused by instability at the index level in all 15 cases. Using multivariate stepwise logistic regression with a threshold p value of 0.35, motion at spondylolisthesis, disc height, and facet angle were predictors of reoperation following surgery. Facet angle > 50° was associated with a 39% rate of reoperation, disc height > 6.5 mm was associated with a 45% rate of reoperation, and motion at spondylolisthesis > 1.25 mm was associated with a 54% rate of reoperation. Patients with all 3 risk factors for instability had a 75% rate of reoperation, whereas patients with no risk factors for instability had a 0% rate of reoperation (p = 0.14).


Patients with motion at spondylolisthesis > 1.25 mm, disc height > 6.5 mm, and facet angle > 50° are more likely to experience instability following decompression surgery for Grade I lumbar spondylolisthesis. Identification of key risk factors for instability might improve patient selection for decompression without fusion surgery. Clinical trial registration no.: NCT00109213

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Zoher Ghogawala, Edward C. Benzel, Sepideh Amin-Hanjani, Fred G. Barker II, J. Fred Harrington, Subu N. Magge, John Strugar, Jean-Valéry C.E. Coumans and Lawrence F. Borges

Object. There is considerable debate among spine surgeons regarding whether fusion should be used to augment decompressive surgery in patients with symptomatic lumbar spinal stenosis involving Grade I degenerative spondylolisthesis. The authors prospectively evaluated the outcomes of patients treated between 2000 and 2002 at two institutions to determine whether fusion improves functional outcome 1 year after surgery.

Methods. Patients ranged in age from 50 to 81 years. They presented with degenerative Grade I (3- to 14-mm) spondylolisthesis and lumbar stenosis without gross instability (< 3 mm of motion at the level of subluxation). Those in whom previous surgery had been performed at the level of subluxation were excluded. Each patient completed Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) and Short Form—36 (SF-36) questionnaires preoperatively and at 6 to 12 months postoperatively.

Some patients underwent decompression alone (20 cases), whereas others underwent decompression and posterolateral instrumentation-assisted fusion (14 cases), at the treating surgeon's discretion. Baseline demographic data, radiographic features, and ODI and SF-36 scores were similar in both groups. The 1-year fusion rate was 93%.

Both forms of surgery independently improved outcome compared with baseline status, based on ODI and SF-36 physical component summary (PCS) results (p < 0.001). Decompression combined with fusion led to an improvement in ODI scores of 27.5 points, whereas decompression alone was associated with a 13.6-point increase (p = 0.02). Analysis of the SF-36 PCS data also demonstrated a significant intergroup difference (p = 0.003).

Conclusions. Surgery substantially improved 1-year outcomes based on established outcomes instruments in patients with Grade I spondylolisthesis and stenosis. Fusion was associated with greater functional improvement.