Extension CT scan: its suitability for assessing fusion after posterior lumbar interbody fusion

Eur Spine J (2011) 20:1496–1502. DOI 10.1007/s00586-011-1739-0

Posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF) is a popular procedure for treating lumbar canal stenosis with spinal instability, and several reports concerning fusion assessment methods exist. However, there are currently no definitive criteria for diagnosing a successful interbody fusion in the lumbar spine. We suggested evaluating fusion status using computed tomography (CT) in extension position to detect pseudoarthrosis more precisely.

The purpose of this study was to evaluate its usefulness for determining bone union quality after PLIF.

Eighty-one patients who underwent PLIF at 97 levels were retrospectively enrolled. The study population included 48 men and 33 women (mean age 58.9 years, range 21–85 years). Patients were followed up for more than 12 months after surgery. The mean follow-up period was 27.6 months (range 14–49 months). Fusion status was evaluated using three ways: flexion– extension radiographs, CT images in flexion and extension position. In the flexion–extension radiographs, mobility of more than 3 , a remaining clear zone, or an uncertain bone connection constituted an incomplete union. For CT images, a remaining clear zone, a gas pattern, or an uncertain bone connection constituted an incomplete union.

Flexion– extension radiographs demonstrated a solid fusion in 90.7% of the 97 levels at 10.7 months postoperatively. When fusion was demonstrated on flexion–extension radiographs, the rate of fusion affirmed by flexion CT and extension CT was 87.6 and 69.1% of the levels assessed, respectively. The rate of pseudoarthrosis detected on extension CT images was significantly higher than that on flexion–extension radiographs (P< 0.001) and flexion CT (P< 0.01). The rate of fusion achieved on extension CT was 85.6% at 15.1 months postoperatively.

Extension CT could detect pseudoarthrosis more clearly than flexion–extension radiography and flexion CT. The CT images are influenced by body position and dilating anterior disc space in extension CT contributes to detect pseudoarthrodesis. Thus, extension CT was a useful method for assessing fusion status after PLIF.

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