Physiotherapy-based rehabilitation following disc herniation operation: results of a randomized clinical trial

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2007 Sep 1;32(19):2041-9. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e318145a386.


Study design: Three-group, randomized, single blinded, controlled trial.

Objective: To test the effectiveness of physiotherapy-based rehabilitation starting 1 week after lumbar disc surgery. In addition, we tried to estimate the contribution of specific effects to the observed outcome (efficacy).

Summary of background data: Physiotherapy-based rehabilitation is usually recommended for patients following lumbar disc surgery. Few and conflicting data exist for the relative effectiveness of this intervention.

Methods: A total of 120 patients following first-time, uncomplicated lumbar disc surgery were randomly assigned to "comprehensive" physiotherapy, "sham" neck massage, or no therapy. Before enrollment, all subjects completed a minimal physiotherapeutic intervention. Physiotherapy was administered by experienced physiotherapists and consisted of 20 sessions per patient over 12 weeks. Masseurs administered "sham massage" to the neck. The amount of treatment time was equal to that of physiotherapy. The main outcome measure was the Low Back Pain Rating Score (LBPRS) at 6 and 12 weeks, and 1.5 years after randomization. Secondary parameters were patients' overall satisfaction with treatment outcome and socioeconomic and psychologic measures.

Results: At the end of therapy (12 weeks), the LBPRS revealed a significantly better improvement in the physiotherapy group than in the untreated group. LBPRS outcome, however, did not significantly differ between physiotherapy and "sham" therapy. There was a tendency toward significance between the sham therapy and no therapy. Within the 1.5-year follow-up, LBP rating scales remained significantly improved compared with baseline, but there were no significant outcome differences. No statistically significant between-group differences were found for the secondary outcome parameters.

Conclusion: As compared with no therapy, physiotherapy following first-time disc herniation operation is effective in the short-term. Because of the limited benefits of physiotherapy relative to "sham" therapy, it is open to question whether this treatment acts primarily physiologically in patients following first-time lumbar disc surgery, but psychological factors may contribute substantially to the benefits observed.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diskectomy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / complications
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / physiopathology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / rehabilitation*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / surgery*
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Low Back Pain / etiology*
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Low Back Pain / rehabilitation
  • Low Back Pain / surgery
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery*
  • Male
  • Massage
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Manipulations*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Recovery of Function
  • Research Design
  • Sick Leave
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome