The value of sitting radiographs: analysis of spine flexibility and its utility in preoperative planning for adult spinal deformity surgery

J Neurosurg Spine 29:414–421, 2018

Preoperative planning of thoracolumbar deformity (TLD) surgery has been shown to improve radiographic and clinical outcomes. One of the confounders in attaining optimal postoperative alignment is the reciprocal hyperkyphosis of unfused thoracic segments. Traditional planning utilizes standing radiographs, but the value of sitting radiographs to predict thoracic flexibility has not been investigated. Authors of the present study propose that alignment changes from a sitting to a standing position will predict changes in unfused thoracic segments after TLD correction.

METHODS Patients with degenerative spine pathology underwent preoperative sitting and standing full-spine stereotactic radiography. A subset of TLD patients who had undergone corrections with minimum T10-pelvis fusions was analyzed in terms of pre- to postoperative alignment. Radiographic parameters were analyzed, including the T1 pelvic angle (TPA), T1–L1 pelvic angle (TLPA), lumbar pelvic angle (LPA), pelvic tilt (PT), mismatch between pelvic incidence and lumbar lordosis (PI-LL mismatch), and T2–12 kyphosis (TK). Thoracic compensation was calculated as the expected TK minus actual TK (i.e., [2/3 × PI] – actual TK). Statistical analysis consisted of paired and unpaired t-tests and linear regression analysis.

RESULTS The authors retrospectively identified 137 patients with full-body standing and sitting radiographs. The mean age of the patients was 60.9 years old, 60.0% were female, and the mean BMI was 27.8 kg/m2. The patients demonstrated significantly different radiographic alignments in baseline spinopelvic and global parameters from the preoperative sitting versus the standing positions: LL (-34.20° vs -47.87°, p < 0.001), PT (28.31° vs 17.50°, p < 0.001), TPA (27.85° vs 16.89°, p < 0.001), TLPA (10.63° vs 5.17°, p < 0.001), and LPA (15.86° vs 9.67°, p < 0.001). Twenty patients (65.0% female) with a mean age of 65.3 years and mean BMI of 30.2 kg/m2 had TLD and underwent surgical correction (pre- to postoperative standing change in TPA: 33.90° to 24.50°, p = 0.001). Preoperative sitting radiographs demonstrated significant differences in alignment compared to postoperative standing radiographs: larger TPA (39.10° vs 24.50°, p < 0.001), PT (35.40° vs 28.10°, p < 0.001), LL (-11.20° vs -44.80°, p < 0.001), LPA (22.80° vs 14.20°, p < 0.001), and unfused Cobb (T2 to upper instrumented vertebra [UIV] Cobb angle: 19.95° vs 27.50°, p = 0.039). Also in the TLD group, mean thoracic compensation was 6.75°. In the linear regression analysis, the change from sitting to standing predicted pre- to postoperative changes for TK and the unfused thoracic component of TPA (5° change in preoperative sitting to preoperative standing corresponded to a pre- to postoperative change in standing TK of 6.35° and in standing TPA of 7.23°, R2 = 0.30 and 0.38, respectively).

CONCLUSIONS Sitting radiographs were useful in demonstrating spine flexibility. Among the TLD surgery group, relaxation of the unfused thoracic spine in the sitting position predicted the postoperative increase in kyphosis of the unfused thoracic segments. Sitting radiographs are a useful tool to anticipate reciprocal changes in thoracic alignment that diminish global corrections.