The evidence on surgical interventions for low back disorders, an overview of systematic reviews

Wilco C. H. Jacobs*, Sidney M. Rubinstein, Paul Willems, Wouter A. Moojen, Ferran Pellise, Cumhur F. Oner, Wilco C. Peul, Maurits W. van Tulder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Many systematic reviews have been published on surgical interventions for low back disorders. The objective of this overview was to evaluate the available evidence from systematic reviews on the effectiveness of surgical interventions for disc herniation, spondylolisthesis, stenosis, and degenerative disc disease (DDD). An earlier version of this review was published in 2006 and since then, many new, better quality reviews have been published. A comprehensive search was performed in the Cochrane database of systematic reviews (CDSR), database of reviews of effectiveness (DARE) and Pubmed. Two reviewers independently performed the selection of studies, risk of bias assessment, and data extraction. Included are Cochrane reviews and non-Cochrane systematic reviews published in peer-reviewed journals. The following conditions were included: disc herniation, spondylolisthesis, and DDD with or without spinal stenosis. The following comparisons were evaluated: (1) surgery vs. conservative care, and (2) different surgical techniques compared to one another. The methodological quality of the systematic reviews was evaluated using AMSTAR. We report (pooled) analyses from the individual reviews. Thirteen systematic reviews on surgical interventions for low back disorders were included for disc herniation (n = 6), spondylolisthesis (n = 2), spinal stenosis (n = 4), and DDD (n = 4). Nine (69 %) were of high quality. Five reviews provided a meta-analysis of which two showed a significant difference. For the treatment of spinal stenosis, intervertebral process devices showed more favorable results compared to conservative treatment on the Zurich Claudication Questionnaire [mean difference (MD) 23.2 95 % CI 18.5-27.8]. For degenerative spondylolisthesis, fusion showed more favorable results compared to decompression for a mixed aggregation of clinical outcome measures (RR 1.40 95 % CI 1.04-1.89) and fusion rate favored instrumented fusion over non-instrumented fusion (RR 1.37 95 % CI 1.07-1.75). For most of the comparisons, the included reviews were not significant and/or clinically relevant differences between interventions were identified. Although the quality of the reviews was quite acceptable, the quality of the included studies was poor. Future studies are likely to influence our assessment of these interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1936-1949
JournalEuropean Spine Journal
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013


  • Systematic review
  • Low back pain
  • Lumbar disc herniation
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Spinal stenosis

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