Introduction: Lumbar spine surgery (fusion, disc replacement or decompression) is common, yet indications are unclear and outcomes, particularly in a workers' compensation setting, are not consistently favourable. This study aimed to determine the outcomes of spine surgery in an Australian workers' compensation cohort.
Methods: A retrospective review of prospectively collected data from WorkCover NSW and insurer agents was performed. Subjects were included if they had lumbar spine decompression, fusion or disc replacement procedures performed between 1 January 2004 and 31 December 2006 (inclusive). Main outcome measures were as follows: need for further lumbar spine surgery, return to work (RTW), return to pre-injury duties (PID) and need for ongoing physical treatment or prescription opioids. All outcomes were measured at 24 months post-surgery.
Results: A total of 476 patients had undergone lumbar spine surgery within the workers' compensation system. The revision surgery rate was 9.2%. The RTW rate and return to PID rate were 50.3% and 14.2%, respectively. The proportion of patients still undergoing treatment was 77.7%. The rates of RTW (or PID) and need for ongoing treatment were significantly worse in patients undergoing fusion and disc replacement, compared with patients undergoing decompressive procedures (laminectomy, discectomy).
Discussion: The findings do not support the use of lumbar spine fusion or disc replacement surgery as a method of achieving RTW and relief of pain in patients treated under workers' compensation.
© 2012 The Authors. ANZ Journal of Surgery © 2012 Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.