Posterior lumbar interbody fusion with cages: an independent review of 71 cases

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  • 1 Department of Neurosurgery, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
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Object. The authors conducted a retrospective study to provide an independent evaluation of posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF) in which impacted carbon cages were used. Interbody cages have been developed to replace tricortical interbody grafts in anterior and PLIF procedures. Superior fusion rates and clinical outcomes have been claimed by the developers.

Methods. In a retrospective study, the authors evaluated 71 consecutive patients in whom surgery was performed between 1995 and 1997. The median follow-up period was 28 months. Clinical outcome was assessed using the Prolo scale. Fusion results were interpreted by an independent radiologist.

The fusion rate was 90%. Overall, 67% of the patients were satisfied with their outcome and would undergo the same operation again. Based on the results of the Prolo scale, however, in only 39% of the patients were excellent or good results achieved. Forty-six percent of the work-eligible patients resumed their working activity. Clinical outcome and return-to-work status were significantly associated with socioeconomic factors such as preoperative employment (p = 0.03), compensation issues (p = 0.001), and length of preoperative sick leave (p = 0.01). Radiographically demonstrated fusion was not statistically related to clinical outcome (p = 0.2).

Conclusions. This is one of the largest independent series in which PLIF with cages has been evaluated. The results show that the procedure is safe and effective with a 90% fusion rate and a 66% overall satisfaction rate, which compare favorably with those of traditional fixation techniques but fail to match the higher results claimed by the innovators of the cage techniques. The authors' experience confirms the reports of others that many patients continue to experience incapacitating back pain despite successful fusion and neurological recovery.

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Contributor Notes

Address reprint requests to: Daniel May, M.D., Department of Neurosurgery, University of Geneva, 24, rue Micheli-du-Crest, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland. email: daniel.may@hcuge.ch.
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