The April 2013 issue of Orthopedics has an important article entitled Predictors of Oswestry Disability Index Worsening After Lumbar Fusion. Smokers and obese surgical patients do not fare as well when undergoing lumbar fusion.

The authors identified patients with an increase in their Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) score after lumbar spine fusion to evaluate whether this is a plausible definition of deterioration and to determine whether any common patient characteristics exist.

A total of 1054 patients who underwent lumbar spinal fusion and had 2-year follow-up data, including the Short Form 36, the ODI, and numeric rating scales for back and leg pain, were identified. Patients with worsening ODI were compared with the remaining cohort. Twenty-eight patients had an absolute increase (worse) in ODI at 1 year postoperatively.

Participants with worsening ODI scores included 13 men and 15 women with an average age of 43.3 years; 15 (54%) were smokers. Common medical comorbidities included obesity and hypertension. Complications occurred in 5 (18%) patients and included wound infection, dural tear, and nerve root injury. Pseudarthrosis was common (n=8; 28%). Twenty-one patients required an additional intervention, including epidural injections, fusion revision, and cervical spine surgery. It is important to have a clear definition of deterioration to better provide informed consent or choice of treatment. Only 28 (2.6%) patients were identified as having an increase in ODI score at 2-year follow-up.