- Technical Note
- Open Access
Minimally invasive lateral lumbar interbody fusion with direct psoas visualization
© Yuan et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2014
Received: 31 December 2013
Accepted: 18 March 2014
Published: 26 March 2014
Minimally invasive lateral approaches to the lumbar spine have been adopted to allow access to the intervertebral disc space while avoiding the complications associated with anterior or posterior approaches. This report describes a minimally invasive technique for lateral lumbar interbody fusion LLIF that allows direct intraoperative visualization of the psoas and surrounding neurovasculature (DV-LIF).
The technique utilizes a radiolucent tubular retractor and a secondary psoas retractor that allows a muscle-sparing approach while offering excellent visualization of the operative site. The unique advantage of this procedure is that the psoas muscle and surrounding nerves can be directly visualized intraoperatively to supplement neuromonitoring. We retrospectively reviewed complication rates in 34 patients treated with DV-LLIF (n = 19) or standard lateral lumbar interbody fusion (S-LLIF, n = 15).
There were 29 complications (median: 1 per patient) with DV-LLIF and 20 (median: 1 per patient) complications with S-LLIF. Postoperative sensory deficits were reported in eight (42%) and seven (47%) patients, respectively. Thigh pain or numbness was reported in eight (42%) and five (33%) patients, respectively. The percentage of the overall complications directly attributable to the procedure was 69% with DV-LLIF and 83% with S-LLIF. One severe complication (back pain) was reported in one DV-LLIF patient and four severe complications (severe bleeding, respiratory failure, deep venous thrombosis and gastrointestinal prophylaxis, and nicked renal vein and aborted procedure) were reported in two S-LLIF patients.
Preliminary evidence suggests that minimally invasive lateral interbody fusion with direct psoas visualization may reduce the risk for severe procedural complications.
Fusion surgery is a viable treatment option for reducing pain and improving function in patients with chronic low back pain refractory to nonsurgical care. Several open and minimally invasive lumbar fusion approaches are available to the spine surgeon including anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF), posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF), and transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF). Iatrogenic injury is an inherent risk of these procedures. ALIF endangers major organs and blood vessels [1–3], while PLIF [4–7] and TLIF [8, 9] can cause musculoligamentous injury, nerve root injury, and spinal fluid leakage.
Minimally invasive lateral approaches to the lumbar spine have been adopted to allow access to the intervertebral disc space while avoiding the complications associated with anterior or posterior approaches. The main limitation of lateral approaches is the potential for transient motor and sensory disturbances due to the inability to directly visualize the psoas muscle and the nerves of the lumbosacral plexus [10, 11]. The wide variability in lumbar plexus anatomy complicates identification of a safe working zone under fluoroscopy , and access to L4–5 is further complicated by longer nerve roots  and significant narrowing of the working zone [14–16], resulting in higher complication rates . The incidence of postoperative thigh pain or weakness with lateral interbody fusion using continuous neuromonitoring ranges from 67%–75% [10, 18] with some cases lingering for 1 year or more . Even in patients with no significant changes in electromyographic response, motor deficits following transpsoas fusion have been reported in 24% of patients . Lateral approaches for lumbar interbody fusion that allow direct visualization of the psoas and surrounding nerves may improve patient safety.
This report describes a minimally invasive technique for lateral interbody fusion (DV-LLIF) that allows direct intraoperative visualization of the psoas and surrounding neurovasculature (VEO Lateral System, Baxano Surgical, Raleigh, NC, USA). This technique utilizes a radiolucent tubular retractor and an internal psoas retractor that allows a muscle-sparing approach while offering excellent visualization of the operative site .
Results and discussion
Baseline characteristics of 34 cases treated with DV-LLIF or S-LLIF
DV-LLIFn = 19
S-LLIFn = 15
Male gender, n (%)
Age, year, median (IQR)
Body mass index, kg/m2, median (IQR)
Complications in 34 cases treated with DV-LLIF or S-LLIF
DV-LLIFn = 19
S-LLIFn = 15
Patients with any complication, n (%)
Complications per patient, median (IQR)
There were 29 complications (median, 1.0 per patient) with DV-LLIF and 20 (median, 1.0 per patient) complications with S-LLIF. Postoperative sensory deficits were reported in eight (42%) and seven (47%) patients, respectively. Thigh pain or numbness was reported in eight (42%) and five (33%) patients, respectively. The percentage of overall complications directly attributable to the procedure was 69% with DV-LLIF and 83% with S-LLIF. A severe complication (back pain at day 70) was reported in one (5%) patient with DV-LLIF, while four severe complications (severe bleeding, respiratory failure, deep venous thrombosis and gastrointestinal prophylaxis, and nicked renal vein and aborted procedure) were reported in two (13%) patients treated with S-LLIF. Median time to complication was 30 (IQR, 11–61) days with DV-LLIF and 24 (0–75) days with S-LLIF.
The reductions in procedural risks with DV-LLIF have been reported by others. Hardenbrook  reported no nerve, vascular, or intra-abdominal injuries and one case of transient lower extremity weakness in 65 subjects (87 levels). Fleischer and colleagues  treated 27 patients with LLIF using direct visualization. All cases were technically successful and patients treated had lower complication rates compared to open fusion controls, including overall complications, pain, paresthesias, motor weakness, and need for thigh anesthesia.
Although this research was limited by a small sample size, the thoroughness of complication reporting is a strength of the paper since we reported all complications, regardless of the severity. This is likely why the complication rates are higher than those typically reported for lumbar interbody fusion. Considering that only ‘severe’ complications required treatment, the reported rates of 5% for DV-LLIF and 13% for S-LLIF are comparable to previous literature [17, 22].
Based on preliminary data, a minimally invasive LLIF technique that allows direct visualization of the operative field may reduce the risk for severe procedural complications. Additionally, direct visualization of the operative field allows the surgeon the opportunity to abort the procedure if the surgical corridor involves unanticipated anatomical obstructions. As with any surgical procedure, spine surgeons must be intimately familiar with relevant anatomy, and thorough training and experience with the transpsoas approach are paramount to achieving optimal clinical results.
LLIF = lateral lumbar interbody fusion
Direct visualization LLIF (DV-LLIF) vs. standard LLIF (S-LLIF)
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