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15.07.2016 | Original Article | Ausgabe 2/2017

European Spine Journal 2/2017

The effectiveness of decompression alone compared with additional fusion for lumbar spinal stenosis with degenerative spondylolisthesis: a pragmatic comparative non-inferiority observational study from the Norwegian Registry for Spine Surgery

European Spine Journal > Ausgabe 2/2017
Ivar M. Austevoll, Rolf Gjestad, Jens Ivar Brox, Tore K. Solberg, Kjersti Storheim, Frode Rekeland, Erland Hermansen, Kari Indrekvam, Christian Hellum



To evaluate the effect of adding fusion to decompression in patients operated for lumbar spinal stenosis with a concomitant lumbar degenerative spondylolisthesis.


After propensity score matching, 260 patients operated with decompression and fusion and 260 patients operated with decompression alone were compared. Primary outcome measures were leg and back pain [Numeric Rating Scale (NRS), 0–10] and Oswestry Disability Index (ODI, 0–100) at 12 months.


At 12-month follow-up, the fusion group rated their pain significantly lower than the decompression alone group [leg pain 3.0 and 3.6, respectively, mean difference −0.6, 95 % confidence interval (CI) −1.2 to −0.05, p = 0.03 and back pain 3.3 and 3.9, respectively, mean difference −0.6, 95 % CI −1.1 to −0.1, p = 0.02]. ODI was not significantly different between the groups (21.0 versus 23.3, mean difference −2.3, 95 % CI −5.8 to 1.1, p = 0.18). Seventy-four percent of the fusion group and 63 % of the decompression alone group achieved a clinically important improvement in back pain (difference in proportion of responders = 11 %, 95 % CI 2–20 %, p = 0.01), corresponding to a number needed to treat of 9 patients (95 % CI 5–50). There was no significant difference in responder rate for leg pain (74 and 67 %, respectively, difference 7 %, 95 % CI −1 to 16 %, p = 0.09) or for ODI (67 and 59 %, respectively, difference 8 %, 95 % CI 0–18 %, p = 0.06). The duration of surgery and hospital stay was longer for the fusion group (mean difference 68 min, 95 % CI 58–78, p < 0.01 and mean difference 4.2 days, 95 % CI 3.5–4.8, p < 0.01).


In the present non-inferiority study, we cannot conclude that decompression alone is as good as decompression with additional fusion. However, the small differences in the groups’ effect sizes suggest that a considerable number of patients can be treated with decompression alone. A challenge in future studies will be to find the best treatment option for each patient.

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