Selecting caudal fusion levels: 2 year functional and stiffness outcomes with matched pairs analysis in multilevel fusion to L5 versus S1.



Controversy persists as to whether to end multilevel thoracolumbar fusions caudally at L5 or S1. Some argue that stopping at L5 may preserve greater function, but there are few data comparing functional limitations due to lumbar stiffness in patients with fusion to L5 versus S1. The aim of this study was to evaluate whether patients undergoing multilevel thoracolumbar fusions with an L5 caudal endpoint have a better lumbosacral function than patients with an S1 caudal endpoint.


Patients undergoing successful thoracolumbar fusion of 5 or more levels to L5 or S1, with solid fusion at 2 year follow-up, were examined from a single European center in addition to a multi-center North American database of 237 patients. In total, 40 patients with a distal stopping point of L5 were matched with a subset of 40 patients with a distal endpoint of S1 ± pelvic fixation. The L5 and S1 groups were matched for the final Oswestry Disability Index (ODI), Sagittal Vertical Axis (SVA C7-S1), number of fusion levels, and age. Impacts of lumbar stiffness on function as measured by the Lumbar Stiffness Disability Index (LSDI) were compared using the conditional logistic regression.


After matching, there was no significant difference between the S1 and L5 groups for the final ODI (29.22 ± 21.6 for S1 versus 29.21 ± 21.7 for L5; p = 0.98), SVA (29.5 ± 40.3 mm for S1 versus 33.7 ± 37.1 mm for L5; p = 0.97), mean age (61.6 ± 11.0 years for S1 versus 58.3 ± 12.6 years for L5; p = 0.23), and number of fusion levels (9.7 ± 3.3 levels for S1 versus 9.0 ± 3 levels for L5; p = 0.34). The final 2-year postoperative LSDI scores were not significantly different between the S1 group (28.08 ± 21.47) and L5 group (29.21 ± 21.66) (hazard ratio 0.99, 95 % CI 0.97-1.03, p = 0.81).


The analysis of patients with multilevel thoracolumbar fusions demonstrated that after minimum 2 year follow-up, self-reported functional impacts of lumbar stiffness were not significantly different between the patients with distal endpoints of L5 versus S1. The choice of distal fusion level of L5 does not appear to retain sufficient spinal flexibility to substantially affect postoperative function.

Level of evidence

Level III.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Daniels, Alan H, Heiko Koller, Shannon L Hiratzka, Michael Mayer, Oliver Meier, Alec Gabriel Contag, Adam EM Eltorai, Jayme Hiratzka, et al. (2017). Selecting caudal fusion levels: 2 year functional and stiffness outcomes with matched pairs analysis in multilevel fusion to L5 versus S1. European spine journal : official publication of the European Spine Society, the European Spinal Deformity Society, and the European Section of the Cervical Spine Research Society, 26(6). pp. 1645–1651. 10.1007/s00586-016-4790-z Retrieved from

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Christopher Ignatius Shaffrey

Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery

I have more than 25 years of experience treating patients of all ages with spinal disorders. I have had an interest in the management of spinal disorders since starting my medical education. I performed residencies in both orthopaedic surgery and neurosurgery to gain a comprehensive understanding of the entire range of spinal disorders. My goal has been to find innovative ways to manage the range of spinal conditions, straightforward to complex. I have a focus on managing patients with complex spinal disorders. My patient evaluation and management philosophy is to provide engaged, compassionate care that focuses on providing the simplest and least aggressive treatment option for a particular condition. In many cases, non-operative treatment options exist to improve a patient’s symptoms. I have been actively engaged in clinical research to find the best ways to manage spinal disorders in order to achieve better results with fewer complications.

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