Back Surgery Patients Recover Better Than Patients Without Surgery

In an interesting study, posted on www.medscape.com, patients with lumbar disc herniations have been found to recover better than those patients who refuse surgery to concentrate on medications, exercise and physical therapy. An injured worker suffering a herniated disc in his or her back (or neck, for that matter) is a frequent condition we see in PA workers’ comp cases. Often, the injured worker is undecided regarding whether to have surgery performed. This study should be interesting, and enlightening, reading for those injured workers.

The study, known as the Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial (SPORT), appeared in the December 1, 2008 issue of Spine. This trial reviewed 1244 patient cases, from 13 American spine clinics, over a period of four years. Each patient had at least a six-week history of a herniated disc in the lumbar spine, causing both back and leg pain. The patients either underwent a surgical procedure (standard open diskectomy), or a course of medications, home exercises and physical therapy.

After the four-year period, the patients who had the lumbar surgery were statistically happier, and better recovered, than those who did not. The surgical patients had better relief of pain (by about 15 points on a 100-point scale), greater physical functioning (also by about 15 points) and lesser disability (by about 13 points). Overall, 79.2% of the surgical patients, and 51.7% of the nonsurgical patients, reported major improvements in their condition. The benefits of surgery were seen as soon as six weeks after the surgical procedure, and were found to last through the four years of the study.

Obviously, whether an injured worker should have lumbar surgery in any specific case depends on that particular individual. This is a major decision which the injured worker should carefully discuss with the medical professionals. Under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, an injured worker is not limited to any specific number of medical opinions. As such, we often advise our PA workers’ comp clients to seek a second, if not a third or fourth, medical opinion as to whether surgery would be in their best medical interests. It is also very important to keep your PA workers’ compensation attorney advised of any changes in your medical condition or treatment, such as surgery.