Study design: A prospective consecutive series of 100 patients computer randomized into 2 groups to have treatment by either chemonucleolysis or surgery.
Objective: To compare the radiological findings preoperatively with the clinical outcome between the groups at 1 year, 10 to 13, and 24 to 27 years of follow-up.
Summary of background data: Chemonucleolysis was introduced in 1964 and became widely used. Its efficacy was proven by several randomized studies when compared with a placebo and surgery. However, it ceased to be manufactured in 2001.
Methods: One hundred consecutive patients were enrolled for the study and randomized according to age, sex, and disc level. Preoperatively, their anteroposterior, lateral lumbar spine, and lateral lumbosacral angle radiographs were obtained, and a myelogram was performed. At 10 to 13 years, 32 of the original patients (18 chemonucleolysis and 14 surgery) and at 24 to 27 years, 45 patients (24 chemonucleolysis and 21 surgery) were assessed by lateral lumbosacral angle radiographs.
Results: Using the myelographical findings, small, medium, and large herniations were digested by chymopapain with more of the failures being the larger ones. There was an equal degree of degenerative change as measured by disc height loss in the young and older age groups and the degree of degenerative change did not relate to outcome. The size of the defect did not relate to the degree of disc height loss. There was a slight loss of disc height over time in both groups. There was no difference in the loss of disc height between the treatments at any of the follow-up time points.
Conclusion: Chemonucleolysis is as effective as surgery when assessed according to intention-to-treat analysis. The loss of disc height over time is the same in both groups. The authors think that restoration of its availability would be beneficial to patients.
Level of evidence: 1.