Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Kevin S. Masters


Lumbar fusion surgery is a commonly used procedure to treat severe spinal pathology and associated chronic disabling low back and leg pain. Despite the common incidence of spinal fusion surgery, few studies have examined patient outcomes or predictive correlates of this procedure. The objectives of this study were to characterize Utah workers who received lumbar fusion surgery in terms of relevant presurgical and outcome variables and to identify presurgical correlates of patient outcomes. An archival prospective research design was utilized consisting of a retrospective medical chart review and a postsurgical telephone outcome survey.

Subjects were 203 workers' compensation patients from the state of Utah who have undergone spinal fusion surgery and who were at least 2 years postsurgery at time of follow-up. Outcomes were assessed for 144 of the 203 patients (71%). Presurgical measures _included demographic, work, compensation, disability, health, surgical, and physiological variables. Outcome measures included solid arthrosis, patient satisfaction, work disability status, functional disability due to back pain, and multidimensional health.

Analysis of patient outcome data revealed that solid arthrosis was achieved in 71.9% of patients. Forty-six percent of subjects felt their back/leg pain problems were worse than what they had expected following the surgery, and 42 % felt that their quality of life had not changed or worsened as a result of lumbar fusion. Twenty-eight percent of fusion patients were work disabled at follow-up. Fusion patient mean outcome scores on multidimensional health measures reflected poorer health than comparative medical patient and nonpatient norms. The most consistent presurgical correlates across outcomes were lawyer involvement, number of prior low back operations, age at injury, and household income at time of injury.

Results are compared to data from previous lumbar fusion research studies and reasons for varying findings are offered. Implications of the findings are discussed in terms of inadequate patient selection and insufficient assessment of patient outcomes in low back research studies. Limitations of the present research are discussed, including how placebo, natural history, and regression to the mean can lead to erroneous conclusions about the efficacy of lumber fusion surgery. Suggestions for improvements in low back surgery outcome research are offered.



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