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Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2005 Feb 1;30(3):365-8.

Reliability of retrospective clinical data to evaluate the effectiveness of lumbar fusion in chronic low back pain.

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  • 1Unitat de Cirurgia del Raquis, Hospital Vall d'Hebron, Barcelona, Spain.



Patients in whom a posterior spinal fusion instrumentation had been performed to treat low back pain were asked to recall their preoperative clinical status by retrospectively filling out the same 3 self-evaluation scales they had completed before surgery in a prospective fashion.


To evaluate the impact of recollection error and compare outcomes using retrospective versus prospective methodologies among a cohort of patients treated with posterior spinal fusion instrumentation.


Literature on spine surgery from 1990 to 2000 shows a greater increase in retrospective studies as compared to randomized controlled trials and other prospective studies. Cross-sectional studies evaluate therapeutic effectiveness by comparing the current condition with the recalled (retrospectively recorded) pretreatment condition. There are no studies analyzing the characteristics of recalled data in a cohort of patients with chronic low back pain treated with posterior spinal fusion instrumentation.


The preoperative clinical status of 58 patients, 33 women and 25 men, with a mean age of 48.3 years (22-84 years) was assessed prospectively with 3 self evaluation questionnaires and retrospectively at a mean of 37.5 months (2-58 months) after surgery using the same questionnaires. The Wilcoxon test was used to compare prospective and retrospective preoperative data and to compare prospective outcomes with outcomes determined from cross-sectional data. Agreement between prospective and retrospective measures was estimated with intraclass correlation coefficients for absolute agreement and consistency.


Comparisons between prospective and recalled data showed significant differences, demonstrating a worse preoperative situation when using retrospective data. Assessment of treatment effectiveness showed that cross-sectional evaluation significantly improved the real surgical outcome. Both absolute agreement and consistency intraclass correlation coefficients showed poor agreement between prospective and cross-sectional data, revealing no systematic bias. Follow-up, age, and gender did not modify agreement and cross-sectional overestimation.


Relying on a patient's recall of preoperative clinical status is not an accurate method to evaluate surgical outcome after posterior spinal fusion instrumentation. Cross-sectional studies may overestimate the effectiveness of surgery.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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