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Kyle A. McGrath, Eric S. Schmidt, Jeremy G. Loss, Callan M. Gillespie, Robb W. Colbrunn, Robert S. Butler, and Michael P. Steinmetz

OBJECTIVE

Excessive stress and motion at the L5–S1 level can lead to degenerative changes, especially in patients with posterior instrumentation suprajacent to L5. Attention has turned to utilization of L5–S1 anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) to stabilize the lumbosacral junction. However, questions remain regarding the effectiveness of stand-alone ALIF in the setting of prior posterior instrumented fusions terminating at L5. The purpose of this study was to assess the biomechanical stability of an L5–S1 ALIF with increasing lengths of posterior thoracolumbar constructs.

METHODS

Seven human cadaveric spines (T9–sacrum) were instrumented with pedicle screws from T10 to L5 and mounted to a 6 degrees-of-freedom robot. Posterior fusion construct lengths (T10–L5, T12–L5, L2–5, and L4–5) were instrumented to each specimen, and torque-fusion level relationships were determined for each construct in flexion-extension, axial rotation, and lateral bending. A stand-alone L5–S1 ALIF was then instrumented, and L5–S1 motion was measured as increasing pure moments (2 to 12 Nm) were applied. Motion reduction was calculated by comparing L5–S1 motion across the ALIF and non-ALIF states.

RESULTS

The average motion at L5–S1 in axial rotation, flexion-extension, and lateral bending was assessed for each fusion construct with and without ALIF. After adding ALIF to a posterior fusion, L5–S1 motion was significantly reduced relative to the non-ALIF state in all but one fused surgical condition (p < 0.05). Longer fusions with ALIF produced larger L5–S1 motions, and in some cases resulted in motions higher than native state motion.

CONCLUSIONS

Posterior fusion constructs up to L4–5 could be appropriately stabilized by a stand-alone L5–S1 ALIF when using a nominal threshold of 80% reduction in native motion as a potential positive indicator of fusion. The results of this study allow conclusions to be drawn from a biomechanical standpoint; however, the clinical implications of these data are not well defined. These findings, when taken in appropriate clinical context, can be used to better guide clinicians seeking to treat L5–S1 pathology in patients with prior posterior thoracolumbar constructs.