Incidence of Low Back Pain After Lumbar Discectomy for Herniated Disc and Its Effect on Patient-reported Outcomes

Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2015 Jun;473(6):1988-99. doi: 10.1007/s11999-015-4193-1.


Background: Long-term postdiscectomy degenerative disc disease and low back pain is a well-recognized disorder; however, its patient-centered characterization and quantification are lacking.

Questions/purposes: We performed a systematic literature review and prospective longitudinal study to determine the frequency of recurrent back pain after discectomy and quantify its effect on patient-reported outcomes (PROs).

Methods: A MEDLINE search was performed to identify studies reporting on the frequency of recurrent back pain, same-level recurrent disc herniation, and reoperation after primary lumbar discectomy. After excluding studies that did not report the percentage of patients with persistent back or leg pain more than 6 months after discectomy or did not report the rate of same level recurrent herniation, 90 studies, which in aggregate had evaluated 21,180 patients, were included in the systematic review portion of this study. For the longitudinal study, all patients undergoing primary lumbar discectomy between October 2010 and March 2013 were enrolled into our prospective spine registry. One hundred fifteen patients were more than 12 months out from surgery, 103 (90%) of whom were available for 1-year outcomes assessment. PROs were prospectively assessed at baseline, 3 months, 1 year, and 2 years. The threshold of deterioration used to classify recurrent back pain was the minimum clinically important difference in back pain (Numeric Rating Scale Back Pain [NRS-BP]) or Disability (Oswestry Disability Index [ODI]), which were 2.5 of 10 points and 20 of 100 points, respectively.

Results systematic review: The proportion of patients reporting short-term (6-24 months) and long-term (> 24 months) recurrent back pain ranged from 3% to 34% and 5% to 36%, respectively. The 2-year incidence of recurrent disc herniation ranged from 0% to 23% and the frequency of reoperation ranged from 0% to 13%.

Prospective study: At 1-year and 2-year followup, 22% and 26% patients reported worsening of low back pain (NRS: 5.3 ± 2.5 versus 2.7 ± 2.8, p < 0.001) or disability (ODI%: 32 ± 18 versus 21 ± 18, p < 0.001) compared with 3 months.

Conclusions: In a systematic literature review and prospective outcomes study, the frequency of same-level disc herniation requiring reoperation was 6%. Two-year recurrent low back pain may occur in 15% to 25% of patients depending on the level of recurrent pain considered clinically important, and this leads to worse PROs at 1 and 2 years postoperatively.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Back Pain / diagnosis
  • Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Back Pain / surgery*
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Diskectomy / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Intervertebral Disc / physiopathology
  • Intervertebral Disc / surgery*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / diagnosis
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / epidemiology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / physiopathology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / surgery*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiopathology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain, Postoperative / diagnosis
  • Pain, Postoperative / epidemiology*
  • Pain, Postoperative / physiopathology
  • Pain, Postoperative / surgery
  • Reoperation
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome