Seven- to 20-Year Outcome of Lumbar Discectomy

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Abstract

Study Design.

A retrospective, follow-up study.

Objectives.

To assess the effects of conventional surgery for lumbar disc herniation over an extended period of time and to examine factors that might correlate with unsatisfactory results.

Summary of Background Data.

Although the short-term results of lumbar discectomy are excellent when there is a proper patient selection, the reported success rates in the long-term follow-up studies vary, and few factors have been implicated for an unsatisfactory outcome.

Methods.

One hundred-nine patients with surgically documented herniated lumbar disc were analyzed, retrospectively, by an independent observer. Long-term follow-up (mean 12.2 years) was done by a mailed, self-report questionnaire that included items about pain relief in the back and leg, satisfaction with the results, need for analgesics, level of activity, working capacity, and reoperations. Subjective disability was measured by the Oswestry questionnaire. Radiographic review was carried out in 66% of patients. End results were assessed using the modified Stauffer–Coventry’s evaluating criteria. Several variables were examined to assess their influence to the outcome.

Results.

The late results were satisfactory in 64% of patients. The mean Oswestry disability score was 18.9. Of the 101 patients who had primary procedures, 28% still complained of significant back or leg pain. Sixty-five percent of patients were very satisfied with their results, 29% satisfied, and 6% dissatisfied. The reoperation rate was 7.3% (8 patients), about one-third of which was due to recurrent disc herniation. Sociodemographic factors predisposing to unsatisfactory outcome, including female gender, low vocational education, and jobs requiring significant physical strenuousness. Disc space narrowing was common at the level of discectomy, but was without prognostic significance.

Conclusions.

The long-term results of standard lumbar discectomy are not very satisfying. More than one-third of the patients had unsatisfactory results and more than one quarter complained of significant residual pain. Heavy manual work, particularly agricultural work, and low educational level were negative predictors of a good outcome. These indicators should be used preoperatively to identify patients who are at high risk for an unfavorable long-term result..

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