Background: Low back pain remains a costly quality-of-life-related health problem. Microdiscectomy is often the surgical procedure of choice for a symptomatic, single-level, lumbar disc herniation in younger and middle-aged adults. The question of whether a post-microdiscectomy exercise program enhances function, quality of life, and disability status has not been systematically explored. Thus, the overall purpose of this study is to assess immediate and long-term outcomes of an exercise program, developed at University of Southern California (USC), targeting the trunk and lower extremities (USC Spine Exercise Program) for persons who have undergone a single-level microdiscectomy for the first time.
Methods/design: One hundred individuals between the ages of 18 and 60 who consent to undergo lumbar microdiscectomy will be recruited to participate in this study. Subjects will be randomly assigned to one of two groups: 1) one session of back care education, or 2) a back care education session followed by the 12-week USC Spine Exercise Program. The outcome examiners (evaluators), as well as the data managers, will be blinded to group allocation. Education will consist of a one-hour "one-on-one" session with the intervention therapist, guided by an educational booklet specifically designed for post-microdiscectomy care. This session will occur four to six weeks after surgery. The USC Spine Exercise Program consists of two parts: back extensor strength and endurance, and mat and upright therapeutic exercises. This exercise program is goal-oriented, performance-based, and periodized. It will begin two to three days after the education session, and will occur three times a week for 12 weeks. Primary outcome measures include the Oswestry Disability Questionnaire, Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire, SF-36 quality of life assessment, Subjective Quality of Life Scale, 50-foot Walk, Repeated Sit-to-Stand, and a modified Sorensen test. The outcome measures in the study will be assessed before and after the 12-week post-surgical intervention program. Long-term follow up assessments will occur every six months beginning one year after surgery and ending five years after surgery. Immediate and long-term effects will be assessed using repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA). If significant interactions are found, one-way ANOVAs will be performed followed by post-hoc testing to determine statistically significant pairwise comparisons.
Discussion: We have presented the rationale and design for a randomized controlled trial evaluating the effectiveness of a treatment regimen for people who have undergone a single-level lumbar microdiscectomy.