Radiological Definitions of Sagittal Plane Segmental Instability in the Degenerative Lumbar Spine: A Systematic Review

Signe F. Elmose*, Gustav O. Andersen, Leah Yacat Carreon, Freyr G. Sigmundsson, Mikkel O. Andersen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Study Design: Systematic Review. Objective: To collect and group definitions of segmental instability, reported in surgical studies of patients with lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS) and/or lumbar degenerative spondylolisthesis (LDS). To report the frequencies of these definitions. To report on imaging measurement thresholds for instability in patients and compare these to those reported in biomechanical studies and studies of spine healthy individuals.To report on studies that include a reliability study. Methods: This review was conducted according to Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) guidelines. Studies eligible for inclusion were clinical and biomechanical studies on adult patients with LDS and/or LSS who underwent surgical treatment and had data on diagnostic imaging. A systematic literature search was conducted in relevant literature databases. Full text screening inclusion criteria was definition of segmental instability or any synonym. Two reviewers independently screened articles in a two-step process. Data synthesis presented by tabulate form and narrative synthesis. Results: We included 118 studies for data extraction, 69% were surgical studies with decompression or fusion as interventions, 31% non-interventional studies. Grouping the definitions of segmental instability according similarities showed that 24% defined instability by dynamic sagittal translation, 26% dynamic translation and dynamic angulation, 8% used a narrative definition. Comparison showed that non-interventional studies with a healthy population more often had a narrative definition. Conclusion: Despite a reputation of non-consensus, segmental instability in the degenerative lumbar spine can radiologically be defined as > 3 mm dynamic sagittal translation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Spine Journal
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)523-533
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

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© The Author(s) 2022.


  • clinical spine surgery
  • diagnostic imaging
  • lumbar degenerative spondylolisthesis
  • lumbar segmental instability
  • spinal stenosis
  • systematic review


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