Evid Based Spine Care J 2011; 2(2): 19-24
DOI: 10.1055/s-0030-1267101
Original research
Original research
© Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart · New York

Interspinous devices: are they as attractive as they seem? An intermediate-term follow-up

Josh E. Schroeder, Leon Kaplan, Shimon Barzilay, Yair Barzilay
  • 1Spine Unit, Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, Jerusalem, Israel
Further Information

Publication History

Publication Date:
15 November 2011 (online)



Study design: A retrospective cohort of 68 patients who underwent insertion of the DIAM (Medtronic Sofamor Danek, Switzerland) interspinous device (ISD) during 2006 – 2008 at one medical center.

Objectives: To assess the short- and intermediate-term outcomes and complications associated with ISD.

Methods: Evaluation of files and all patients who underwent insertion of a DIAM ISD was performed. Patients walking distances and pain (visual analog scale score) were compared with data gathered before surgery. Outcome and all complications related to ISD have been identified and analyzed.

Results: All 68 patients were available for follow-up. Mean follow-up was 34 months (23 – 52 months). The average age was 57 (± 13) years. Walking distance increased by 890% and patient's pain score improved by 3.27 points on visual analog scale. Twenty-one (32%) of the 68 patients had perioperative or late complications. Nine complications (75%) were unrelated to ISD and included 5 dura tears, 3 wound-related complications, and 1 transient ischemic attack. Spinous process fractures occurred in 5 cases, leading to revision in 2 cases. In total, 7 of the patients required revision surgery. These patients were older, with an average age of 69 years.

Conclusion: The outcome of patients who had an implantation of the DIAM ISD is good. In this cohort, 6% developed recurrent claudication symptoms in the second postoperative year. In an older population, the combination of softer bone and rigid stenosis increase the risk of spinous process fracture, resulting in failure and leading to revision surgery. Other solutions should be sought for these patients.

STUDY RATIONALE Interspinous devices (ISDs) are motion preservation systems that are claimed to alter favorably the movement and load transfer of a spinal-motion segment and to increase the space in the lateral recess and foramina 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Initial clinical results were promising 4, 5; however, in recent studies mixed results have been reported 1, 2. OBJECTIVES To assess the outcome and complication rate of a cohort of patients who underwent a DIAM ISD implantation (Medtronic Sofamor Danek, Switzerland) in the short and intermediate postoperative periods. METHODS Study design: Retrospective cohort of all patients followed-up for 2 years or more after surgery. Inclusion criteria: All patients with spinal claudication or radiculopathy, caused by spinal stenosis who were implanted with the DIAM ISD (Medtronic Sofamor Danek, Switzerland) during 2006 – 2008. Exclusion criteria: Patients with insertion of other ISDs (Fig 1). Other ISDs were excluded as a mean to reduce variability, as the insertion process is different for each ISD and the methods of fixation are also different. Patient population (Fig 1): Sixty-eight patients with spinal claudication or radiculopathy due to spinal stenosis who underwent insertion of a DIAM ISD (total 91 ISDs) were included in the study. Patients' comorbidities were documented (ie, hypertension, osteoporosis, diabetes mellitus, and so on). Interventions: The ISD was implanted in 1 level for 52 patients; 2 levels for 16 patients; and 3 levels for 1 patient. Forty-eight patients underwent an insertion of ISD following a decompression procedure (laminotomy, flavectomy, recess decompression, or foraminotomy). The ISD was implanted according to published guidelines 6. Outcomes: Patients walking time (in minutes) before and after the procedure was assessed (patients were asked „How long can you walk until your back and leg symptoms make you stop or sit down?”). Patient back and leg pain was assessed via a 0 – 10 cm visual analog scale (VAS) before and after surgery. Placement of ISD was verified with a postoperative standing AP and lateral x-rays. All short- and intermediate-term complications were documented. Revision spine surgery was also documented. Analysis: Descriptive statistical methods were used on the Microsoft Excel® spreadsheet software for counts, rates, means, and standard deviations of demographic and disease-related data. A paired t test was used for comparing preoperative and postoperative VAS scores and walking distance; P < .05 was considered significant. For VAS scores, improvements beyond accepted minimal clinically important difference (1.8 points) were considered significant 7. Regression analysis was performed to find any comorbidity as a predictor of failure. All complications were noted.


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This study on interspinous devices has two shortcomings: it has no control group and it uses a retrospective format for data gathering. There also appeared to have been some selection bias as other interspinous devices were used during the same time frame at the study site. Moreover, the decision to perform formal decompression surgery in addition to placement of the device seems to have been left to surgeon discretion. That stated, the study benefits from a relatively well-sized and followed-up cohort with no reported losses to follow-up. The authors were praised for their diligence in reporting complications and studying their impact on the patients—thus raising the credibility of the study effort.

In the end, the patients seemed to benefit reasonably well from surgeries reported in this series to warrant further investigation and not outrightly condemn the device. Clearly, spinous process fractures in elderly patients with osteopenia seem to be noteworthy in the surgical decision-making process. Based on the vast body of the literature, it appears reasonable to conclude that in suitably selected patients (those without major instability, previous decompression surgery, and with adequate bone stock) it is reasonable to conclude that there appears to be therapeutic equipoise regarding treatment consisting either of decompression and placement of interspinous spacer(s) or suitable decompression surgery alone.

This conclusion leads to the charge for investigators to start formal prospective testing of patients who receive a decompression surgery for stenosis alone or decompression in conjunction with placement of an appropriately selected interspinous spacer following neural element decompression.

Also, the time seems ripe for comparative testing of different devices and their respective complications – for example, rigid devices and those that by virtue of their material design allow for a „cushioning effect” between the spinous processes.