Improvement in Pain After Lumbar Spine Surgery: The Role of Preoperative Expectations of Pain Relief

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Abstract

Objectives:

Improvement in pain is a major expectation of patients undergoing lumbar spine surgery.

Materials and Methods:

Among 422 patients, the goal of this prospective study was to measure 2-year postoperative pain and to determine whether this outcome varied according to patient and clinical characteristics, including amount of pain relief expected preoperatively. Before surgery patients completed valid questionnaires that addressed clinical characteristics and expectations for pain improvement. Two years after surgery patients reported how much pain improvement they actually received.

Results:

The mean age was 56 years old and 55% were men. Two years after surgery 11% of patients reported no improvement in pain, 28% reported a little to moderate improvement, 44% reported a lot of improvement, and 17% reported complete improvement. In multivariable analysis, patients reported less pain improvement if, before surgery, they expected greater pain improvement (odds ratio [OR] 1.4), had a positive screen for depression (OR 1.7), were having revision surgery (OR 1.6), had surgery at L4 or L5 (OR 2.5), had a degenerative diagnosis (OR 1.6), and if, after surgery, they had another surgery (OR 2.8) and greater back (OR 1.3) and leg (OR 1.1) pain (all variables P≤0.05).

Conclusions:

Pain is not uncommon after lumbar surgery and is associated with a network of clinical, surgical, and psychological variables. This study provides evidence that patients’ expectations about pain are an independent variable in this network. Because expectations are potentially modifiable this study supports addressing pain-related expectations with patients before surgery through discussions with surgeons and through formal preoperative patient education.

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