An Assessment of Nonoperative Management Strategies in a Herniated Lumbar Disc Population: Successes Versus Failures

Global Spine J. 2020 Jul 7;2192568220936217. doi: 10.1177/2192568220936217. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Objective: To compare the utilization of conservative treatments in patients with lumbar intervertebral disc herniations who were successfully managed nonoperatively versus patients who failed conservative therapies and elected to undergo surgery (microdiscectomy).

Methods: Clinical records from adult patients with an initial herniated lumbar disc between 2007 and 2017 were selected from a large insurance database. Patients were divided into 2 cohorts: patients treated successfully with nonoperative therapies and patients that failed conservative management and opted for microdiscectomy surgery. Nonoperative treatments utilized by the 2 groups were collected over a 2-year surveillance window. "Utilization" was defined by cost billed to patients, prescriptions written, and number of units disbursed.

Results: A total of 277 941 patients with lumbar intervertebral disc herniations were included. Of these, 269 713 (97.0%) were successfully managed with nonoperative treatments, while 8228 (3.0%) failed maximal nonoperative therapy (MNT) and underwent a lumbar microdiscectomy. MNT failures occurred more frequently in males (3.7%), and patients with a history of lumbar epidural steroid injections (4.5%) or preoperative opioid use (3.6%). In a logistic multivariate regression analysis, male sex and utilization of opioids were independent predictors of conservative management failure. Furthermore, a cost analysis indicated that patients who failed nonoperative treatments billed for nearly double ($1718/patient) compared to patients who were successfully treated ($906/patient).

Conclusion: Our results suggest that the majority of patients are successfully managed nonoperatively. However, in the subset of patients that fail conservative management, male sex and prior opioid use appear to be independent predictors of treatment failure.

Keywords: disc; disc herniation; discectomy; low back pain; lumbar.