Preoperative Opioid Use is a Predictor of Poor Return to Work in Workers' Compensation Patients After Lumbar Diskectomy

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2018 Apr 15;43(8):594-602. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0000000000002385.


Study design: A retrospective cohort.

Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the impact of preoperative opioid use in workers' compensation (WC) patients undergoing lumbar diskectomy (LD).

Summary of background data: The prevalence of back pain among opioid users approached 60%. Long-term opioid dependence in spine surgery patients is roughly 20%. Despite pervasive use, there is no evidence to support long-term opioid analgesic use for back pain.

Methods: Ten thousand five hundred ninety-two patients received compensation from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation for a lumbar disc herniation between 2005 and 2012. Patients with spine comorbidities, smoking history, or multilevel surgery were excluded. Preoperatively, 566 patients had no opioid use, 126 had short-term opioid use (STO), 315 had moderate opioid use (MTO), and 279 had long-term opioid use (LTO). The primary outcome was whether subjects returned to work (RTW).

Results: Seven hundred twelve (55.4%) patients met our RTW criteria. There was a significant difference in RTW rates among the no opioid (64.1%), MTO (52.7%), and LTO (36.9%) populations. Multivariate logistic regression analysis found several covariates to be independent negative predictors of RTW status: preoperative opioid use [P < 0.01; odds ratio (OR) = 0.54], time to surgery (P < 0.01; OR = 0.98 per month), legal representation (P < 0.01; OR = 0.57), and psychiatric comorbidity (P = 0.02; OR = 0.36). Patients in the LTO group had higher medical costs (P < 0.01), rates of psychiatric comorbidity (P < 0.01), incidence of failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) (P < 0.01), and postoperative opioid use (P < 0.01) compared with the STO and no opioid groups.

Conclusion: Preoperative opioid use was determined to be a negative predictor of RTW rates after LD in WC patients. In addition, long-term preoperative opioid use was associated with higher medical costs, psychiatric illness, FBSS, and postoperative opioid use. Even a short or moderate course of preoperative opioids was associated with worse outcomes compared with no use. For WC patients undergoing LD, judicious use of preoperative opioid analgesics may improve clinical outcomes and reduce the opioid burden.

Level of evidence: 3.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / economics
  • Back Pain / economics
  • Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Back Pain / surgery
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diskectomy / adverse effects
  • Diskectomy / economics
  • Diskectomy / trends*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ohio / epidemiology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Preoperative Care / adverse effects
  • Preoperative Care / economics
  • Preoperative Care / trends*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Workers' Compensation / economics
  • Workers' Compensation / trends*
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid