Does a Preoperative Cognitive-Behavioral Intervention Affect Disability, Pain Behavior, Pain, and Return to Work the First Year After Lumbar Spinal Fusion Surgery?

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Study Design.

A randomized clinical trial including 90 patients.


To examine the effect of a preoperative cognitive-behavioral intervention (CBT) for patients undergoing lumbar spinal fusion (LSF) surgery.

Summary of Background Data.

Few published studies have looked at the potential of rehabilitation to improve outcomes after LSF. Rehabilitation programs using CBT are recommended. Furthermore, initiating interventions preoperatively seems beneficial, but only limited data exist in the field of spine surgery.


Patients with degenerative disc disease or spondylolisthesis undergoing LSF were randomized to usual care (control group) or preoperative CBT and usual care (CBT group). Primary outcome was change in Oswestry Disability Index from baseline to 1-year follow-up. Secondary outcomes were catastrophizing, fear avoidance belief, work status, and back and leg pain.


At 1-year follow-up, there was no statistically significant difference between the CBT group and the control group in Oswestry Disability Index score (P = 0.082). However, the CBT group had achieved a significant reduction of −15 points (−26; −4) already at 3 months (between group difference P = 0.003), and this reduction was maintained throughout the year. There were no differences between groups at 1-year follow-up with regard to any of the secondary outcomes.


Participating in a preoperative CBT intervention in addition to usual care did not produce better outcomes at 1-year follow-up for patients undergoing LSF. Although the reduction in disability was achieved much faster in the CBT group, resulting in a significant difference between groups already 3 months after surgery, it did not translate into a faster return to work. Our findings support the need for further research into the use of targeted rehabilitation interventions among patients with elevated levels of catastrophizing and fear avoidance beliefs.


Level of Evidence: 2

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