Lumbar spinal stenosis in elderly patients: is a unilateral microsurgical approach sufficient for decompression?

J Neurosurg Spine 14:305–312, 2011. DOI: 10.3171/2010.10.SPINE09708

For the treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis, less invasive procedures, which preserve maximal bony and ligamentous structures, have been recommended to reduce associated morbidity. The authors examined the outcome after decompression of spinal stenosis in the elderly by comparing 3 different surgical approaches. Their focus was whether a unilateral microsurgical decompression provided sufficient outcomes in the elderly population.

Methods. The authors investigated 108 elderly patients (age ≥ 60 years) with lumbar spinal stenosis (mean age 71 years [range 60–93 years]) who underwent surgery between 2004 and June 2006 at the authors’ institution. Three different modes of decompression were analyzed in this study: a unilateral partial hemilaminectomy, a hemilaminectomy, and a laminectomy. The outcome was assessed 12 months postoperatively using the Quebec Back Pain Disability Scale and the Hannover Functional Back Pain Questionnaire.

Results. The authors performed a unilateral partial hemilaminectomy in 53 patients (49%). Patients who underwent unilateral partial hemilaminectomies achieved favorable results of at least 80% as assessed using the Quebec Back Pain Disability Scale and Hannover Functional Back Pain Questionnaire. Hemilaminectomies were performed in 45 patients (41.7%), and laminectomies were performed in 10 patients (9.3%). However, there was no statistically significant difference between the various techniques regarding the postoperative results (p < 0.05).

Conclusions. Laminectomies did not show any advantage when compared with unilateral transmedian approaches. A unilateral partial hemilaminectomy combined with a transmedian decompression sufficiently treated the stenosis. This method seemed advantageous in minimizing the procedure and associated morbidity in this elderly population. Further investigations with long-term results (> 5 years) are still necessary.

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