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Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1997 Aug 15;22(16):1898-903; discussion 1904.

Clinical analysis of two-level compression of the cauda equina and the nerve roots in lumbar spinal canal stenosis.

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  • 1Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Fukushima Medical College, Japan.



This study is a prospective, clinical study assessing the efficacy of selective decompression of the responsible level in two-level stenosis in accordance with neurologic findings defined by the gait load test, and functional diagnosis based on selective nerve root block.


To clarify the clinical features of two-level stenosis regarding the neurologic level responsible for the symptoms, neurogenic intermittent claudication, and the outcome of selective decompression.


Experimental studies have indicated that double-level compression of the cauda equina induces a more severe impairment of nerve function than does single-level compression. However, few studies have focused on the clinical importance of two-level stenosis. The clinical effects of two-level stenosis on the cauda equina and nerve roots are unknown.


A total of 81 patients with lumbar spinal canal stenosis due to spondylosis and degenerative spondylolisthesis were divided into two groups, two-level stenosis at L3-L4 and L4-L5, and one-level stenosis at L4-L5, based on myelography. The types of neurogenic intermittent claudication, the level responsible for neurologic findings, and the postsurgical outcome were compared between both groups. The level responsible for the symptoms in two-level stenosis was determined in accordance with neurologic findings on the gait load test and functional diagnosis based on a selective nerve root block. All patients underwent a prospective, selective decompression at the neurologically responsible level only. The average follow-up period was 4.6 years (range, 1-8 years).


The patients with two-level stenosis more frequently had cauda equina symptoms than those with one-level stenosis, except patients with degenerative spondylolisthesis. It was therefore assumed that two-level stenosis was associated with cauda equina impairment, Changes in neurologic condition before and after the gait test were observed in four patients with two-level stenosis. Finally, for 28 patients with two-level stenosis, the levels responsible for the neurologic symptoms were the caudal level (L4-L5) in 22 patients, the cranial level (L3-L4) in 1 patient, and both cranial and caudal levels (L3-L4 and L4-L5) in 5 patients. All stenotic levels on the myelogram were not always symptomatic in two-level stenosis. However, in one-level stenosis, all of the responsible levels completely corresponded to the myelogram. Selective decompression only at the neurologically responsible level improved neurogenic intermittent claudication in all patients. The asymptomatic levels at which the stenotic condition was left unchanged at surgery did not become symptomatic at follow-up; in addition, there was no significant difference in the postoperative outcome between two-level stenosis and one-level stenosis.


Two-level stenosis in patients with lumbar spondylosis is associated with production of cauda equina lesions. The gait load test provides information regarding changes in symptoms and neurologic condition during exercise. The responsible levels should be determined based on neurologic findings after the gait load test and a selective nerve root block. It is uncommon for both stenotic levels to be symptomatic in patients with two-level stenosis. Less invasive surgery such as selective decompression for the responsible level in patients with two-level stenosis is a useful technique with a good potential for long-term success.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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