Osteoporosis in spine surgery patients: What is the best way to diagnose osteoporosis in this population?

Jeffery D. St. Jeor, Taylor J. Jackson, Ashley E. Xiong, Aamir Kadri, Brett A. Freedman, Arjun S. Sebastian, Bradford L. Currier, Ahmad Nassr, Jeremy L. Fogelson, Kurt A. Kennel, Paul A. Anderson, Benjamin D. Elder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE The goal of this study was to compare different recognized definitions of osteoporosis in patients with degenerative lumbar spine pathology undergoing elective spinal fusion surgery to determine which patient population should be considered for preoperative optimization. METHODS A retrospective review of patients in whom lumbar spine surgery was planned at 2 academic medical centers was performed, and the rate of osteoporosis was compared based on different recognized definitions. Assessments were made based on dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA), CT Hounsfield units (HU), trabecular bone score (TBS), and fracture risk assessment tool (FRAX). The rate of osteoporosis was compared based on different definitions: 1) the WHO definition (T-score ≤-2.5) at total hip or spine; 2) CT HU of < 110; 3) National Bone Health Alliance (NBHA) guidelines; and 4) "expanded spine" criteria, which includes patients meeting NBHA criteria and/or HU < 110, and/or "degraded" TBS in the setting of an osteopenic T-score. Inclusion criteria were adult patients with a DXA scan of the total hip and/or spine performed within 1 year and a lumbar spine CT scan within 6 months of the physician visit. RESULTS Two hundred forty-four patients were included. The mean age was 68.3 years, with 70.5% female, 96.7% Caucasian, and the mean BMI was 28.8. Fracture history was reported in 53.8% of patients. The proportion of patients identified with osteoporosis on DXA, HUs, NBHA guidelines, and the authors' proposed "expanded spine" criteria was 25.4%, 36.5%, 75%, and 81.9%, respectively. Of the patients not identified with osteoporosis on DXA, 31.3% had osteoporosis based on HU, 55.1% had osteoporosis with NBHA, and 70.4% had osteoporosis with expanded spine criteria (p < 0.05), with poor correlations among the different assessment tools. CONCLUSIONS Limitations in the use of DXA T-scores alone to diagnose osteoporosis in patients with lumbar spondylosis has prompted interest in additional methods of evaluating bone health in the spine, such as CT HU, TBS, and FRAX, to inform guidelines that aim to reduce fracture risk. However, no current osteoporosis assessment was developed with a focus on improving outcomes in spinal surgery. Therefore, the authors propose an expanded spine definition for osteoporosis to identify a more comprehensive cohort of patients with potential poor bone health who could be considered for preoperative optimization, although further study is needed to validate these results in terms of clinical outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalNeurosurgical focus
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020


  • DXA
  • Dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry
  • FRAX
  • Fracture risk assessment tool
  • Hounsfield units
  • Osteoporosis
  • Trabecular bone score

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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