Tandem spinal stenosis (TSS) is a degenerative spinal condition characterized by spinal canal narrowing at 2 or more distinct spinal levels. It is an aging-related condition that is likely to increase as the population ages, but which remains poorly described in the literature.
It is a common condition present in up to 60% of patients with spinal stenosis. This disorder, however, is often overlooked, which can lead to serious complications. Identification of tandem spinal stenosis is paramount as a first step in management and, although there is still no preferred intervention, both staged and simultaneous procedures have been shown to be effective. Surgeons may utilize a single, staged, or combined approach to decompression, always addressing cervical myelopathy as a priority 1).
The purpose of a study of van Eck et al. was to develop a simple and clinically useful morphological classification system for congenital lumbar spinal stenosis using sagittal MRI, allowing clinicians to recognize patterns of lumbar congenital stenosis quickly and be able to screen these patients for tandem cervical stenosis.
Forty-four subjects with an MRI of both the cervical and lumbar spine were included. On the lumbar spine MRI, the sagittal canal morphology was classified as one of three types: Type I normal, Type II partially narrow, Type III globally narrow. For the cervical spine, the Torg-Pavlov ratio on X-ray and the cervical spinal canal width on MRI were measured. Kruskal-Wallis analysis was done to determine if there was a relationship between the sagittal morphology of the lumbar spinal canal and the presence of cervical spinal stenosis.
Subjects with a type III globally narrow lumbar spinal canal had a significantly lower cervical Torg-Pavlov ratio and smaller cervical spinal canal width than those with a type I normal lumbar spinal canal.
A type III lumbar spinal canal is a globally narrow canal characterized by a lack of spinal fluid around the conus. This was defined as “functional lumbar spinal stenosis” and is associated with an increased incidence of tandem cervical spinal stenosis 2).
They retrospectively reviewed 803 patients with clinical and radiographic evidence of TSS treated between 2008 and 2014 with a minimum 2-year follow-up. The records of patients with clinical and radiographic evidence of concurrent cervical and lumbar stenosis were reviewed. Prospectively gathered QOL data, including the Pain Disability Questionnaire (PDQ), Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), EuroQOL-5 Dimensions (EQ-5D), and Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) for low back pain, were assessed at the 6-month, 1-year, and 2-year follow-ups.
Of 803 identified patients (mean age 66.2 years; 46.9% male), 19.6% underwent lumbar decompression only, 14.1% underwent cervical + lumbar decompression, and 66.4% underwent conservative management only. Baseline VAS scores were similar across all groups, but patients undergoing conservative management had better baseline QOL scores on all other measures. Both surgical cohorts experienced significant improvements in the VAS, PDQ, and EQ-5D at all time points; patients in the cervical + lumbar cohort also had significant improvement in the PHQ-9. Conservatively managed patients showed no significant improvement in QOL scores at any follow-up interval.
Lumbar decompression with or without cervical decompression improves low back pain and QOL outcomes in patients with TSS. The decision to prioritize lumbar decompression is therefore unlikely to adversely affect long-term quality-of-life improvements 3).
Cervical spine surgery with or without follow-up lumbar spine surgery significantly improves neck pain in patients with TSS. In contrast, cervical spine surgery in these patients does not improve lumbar symptoms. Lumbar spine surgery also did not improve low back pain or quality of life. Future prospective studies are necessary to examine the impact of lumbar decompression alone on cervical spine symptoms in patients with TSS 4).