The bilateral and unilateral interlaminar techniques for bilateral decompression both demonstrate good results for the treatment of degenerative lumbar spinal stenosis (DLSS). Although there is some discussion about which approach is more effective, studies that directly compare these two popular techniques are rare. To address this shortcoming, this study compares postoperative functional disability, pain, and patient satisfaction among patients with single-level DLSS who underwent bilateral decompression using either a bilateral or unilateral approach.
This retrospective study included patients who underwent operations between November 1, 2009, and October 1, 2011. These patients underwent single-level bilateral decompressive surgery using either the bilateral or unilateral interlaminar approach at one of 5 participating hospitals. Exclusion criteria included previous lumbar surgery, additional disc surgery, and spondylolisthesis requiring fusion surgery. Primary outcome measures included bodily pain (as reported using the visual analog scale [VAS]), the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ), and the Oswestry Disability Index (ODI). In addition, reductions in leg and back symptoms and the patient’s general evaluation of the procedure were queried. Finally, patient satisfaction and surgical parameters were evaluated. Questionnaires were sent to each patient’s home, and electronic patient files were used to collect the data.
One hundred and seventy-five patients returned the questionnaire (74.4% response rate; 68 and 107 patients who underwent the bilateral or unilateral approach, respectively). Mean age at surgery was 68 years (range 34–89 years), and the mean follow-up period was 14.2 months (range 3.3–27.4 years). There were no significant differences in ODI (20.3 vs 22.6 for the bilateral and unilateral approaches, respectively), RMDQ (3.99 vs 4.8, respectively), or pain scores between treatment groups. Back symptoms were reduced in 74.8% (bilateral: 74.6% vs unilateral: 75%; not significant), and leg symptoms in 80.6% of the patients (bilateral: 73.1% vs unilateral: 85.4%; p = 0.048). In total, 72.1% (bilateral) and 80.0% (unilateral) of patients reported good overall treatment results (p = 0.226). Significantly more patients in the unilateral group reported a better overall satisfaction with the procedure (82.1% vs 69.1%; p = 0.047).
There were no differences in postoperative functional disability and pain between the surgical techniques. The significant differences in patient satisfaction and reduction in leg symptoms were unrelated to surgical technique. The overall treatment results were satisfactory. Both techniques are safe and effective options for treating patients with single-level DLSS.