The course and prognostic factors of symptomatic cervical disc herniation with radiculopathy: a systematic review of the literature

Spine J. 2014 Aug 1;14(8):1781-9. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2014.02.032. Epub 2014 Mar 12.


Background context: Cervical spine disc herniation is a disabling source of cervical radiculopathy. However, little is known about its course and prognosis. Understanding the course and prognosis of symptomatic cervical disc herniation is necessary to guide patients' expectations and assist clinicians in managing patients.

Purpose: To describe the natural history, clinical course, and prognostic factors of symptomatic cervical disc herniations with radiculopathy.

Study design: Systematic review of the literature and best evidence synthesis.

Methods: A systematic search of MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, SportsDiscus, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials from inception to 2013 was conducted to retrieve eligible articles. Eligible articles were critically appraised using the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network criteria. The results from articles with low risk of bias were analyzed using best evidence synthesis principles.

Results: We identified 1,221 articles. Of those, eight articles were eligible and three were accepted as having a low risk of bias. Two studies pertained to course and one study pertained to prognosis. Most patients with symptomatic cervical disc herniations with radiculopathy initially present with intense pain and moderate levels of disability. However, substantial improvements tend to occur within the first 4 to 6 months post-onset. Time to complete recovery ranged from 24 to 36 months in, approximately, 83% of patients. Patients with a workers' compensation claim appeared to have a poorer prognosis.

Conclusions: Our best evidence synthesis describes the best available evidence on the course and prognosis of cervical disc herniations with radiculopathy. Most patients with symptomatic cervical spine disc herniation with radiculopathy recover. Possible recurrences and time to complete recovery need to be further studied. More studies are also needed to understand the prognostic factors for this condition.

Keywords: Cervical disc herniation; Cervical radiculopathy; Course; Epidemiology; Prognosis; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / complications
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / diagnosis*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / therapy
  • Prognosis
  • Radiculopathy / complications
  • Radiculopathy / diagnosis*
  • Radiculopathy / therapy
  • Recovery of Function
  • Time Factors
  • Workers' Compensation