Radiographic and MRI evidence of indirect neural decompression after the anterior column realignment procedure for adult spinal deformity

J Neurosurg Spine 37:703–712, 2022

The anterior column realignment (ACR) procedure, which consists of sectioning the anterior longitudinal ligament/annulus and placing a hyperlordotic interbody cage, has emerged as a minimally invasive surgery (MIS) for achieving aggressive segmental lordosis enhancement to address adult spinal deformity (ASD). Although accumulated evidence has revealed indirect neural decompression after lateral lumbar interbody fusion (LLIF), whether ACR serves equally well for neural decompression remains to be proven. The current study intended to clarify this ambiguous issue.

METHODS A series of 36 ASD patients with spinopelvic mismatch, defined as pelvic incidence (PI) minus lumbar lordosis (LL) > 10°, underwent a combination of ACR, LLIF, and percutaneous pedicle screw (PPS) fixation. This “MIS triad” procedure was applied over short segments with mean fusion length of 3.3 levels, and most patients underwent single-level ACR. The authors analyzed full-length standing radiographs, CT and MRI scans, and Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) scores in patients with minimum 1 year of follow-up (mean [range] 20.3 [12–39] months).

RESULTS Compared with the preoperative values, the radiographic and MRI measurements of the latest postoperative studies changed as follows. Segmental disc angle more than quadrupled at the ACR level and LL nearly doubled. MRI examinations at the ACR level revealed a significant (p < 0.0001) increase in the area of the dural sac that was accompanied by significant (p < 0.0001) decreases in area and thickness of the ligamentum flavum and in thickness of the disc bulge. The corresponding CT scans demonstrated significant (all p < 0.0001) increases in disc height to 280% of the preoperative value at the anterior edge, 224% at the middle edge, and 209% at the posterior edge, as well as in pedicleto-pedicle distance to 122%. Mean ODI significantly (p < 0.0001) decreased from 46.3 to 26.0.

CONCLUSIONS The CT-based data showing vertebral column lengthening across the entire ACR segment with an increasingly greater degree anteriorly suggest that the corrective action of ACR relies on a lever mechanism, with the intact facet joints acting as the fulcrum. Whole-segment spine lengthening at the ACR level reduced the disc bulge anteriorly and the ligamentum flavum posteriorly, with eventual enlargement of the dural sac. ACR plays an important role in not only LL restoration but also stenotic spinal canal enlargement for ASD surgery.