Is preoperative fat infiltration in lumbar spine muscles associated with worse clinical outcomes after lumbar interbody fusion?


Lumbar musculature has a fundamental role in spine stability and spinal balance. Muscle atrophy and fat infiltration play an important role in pain pathophysiology. Accordingly, the preoperative condition of lumbar muscles may influence clinical outcomes after surgical treatment. In this context, the aim of this study was to evaluate the association between preoperative lumbar paravertebral muscle fat infiltration and clinical outcomes after lumbar interbody fusion.


A retrospective study of patients with lumbar pathology submitted to lumbar transforaminal (TLIF) or posterior interbody fusion (PLIF) was performed, with a minimum of two years of follow-up. Preoperative lumbar magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images were classified for fat infiltration in lumbar multifidus muscle and correlated with clinical outcomes.


Seventy-five patients were included: 24 submitted to PLIF and 51 to TLIF. Most patients underwent surgery for spondylolisthesis (67%). Higher degrees of fat infiltration were associated with more advanced age (54.8 vs. 49.1 years old, p = 0.04) and more leg pain after surgery (p = 0.04). No statistically significant differences in other clinical outcomes such as Oswestry Disability Index, visual analogue scale for back and leg pain, self-reported back pain relief, return to work and overall satisfaction were found between different groups of fat infiltration. The improvement in leg pain was associated with improvement in self-reported lumbar pain (p < 0.001).


Age and preoperative degree of fat infiltration may be important to predict improvement in leg pain after lumbar interbody fusion. The absence of solid literature on this topic and universal assessment methodologies reinforce the need for further studies.


Fat infiltration; Interbody fusion; Lumbar muscles; Muscle atrophy.

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