What is success of treatment? Expected outcome scores in cervical radiculopathy patients were much higher than the previously reported cut-off values for success

Eur Spine J. 2022 May 13. doi: 10.1007/s00586-022-07234-7. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Purpose: Treatment success can be defined by asking a patient how they perceive their condition compared to prior to treatment, but it can also be defined by establishing success criteria in advance. We evaluated treatment outcome expectations in patients undergoing surgery or non-operative treatment for cervical radiculopathy.

Methods: The first 100 consecutive patients from an ongoing randomized controlled trial (NCT03674619) comparing the effectiveness of surgical and nonsurgical treatment for cervical radiculopathy were included. Patient-reported outcome measures and expected outcome and improvement were obtained before treatment. We compared these with previously published cut-off values for success. Arm pain, neck pain and headache were measured by a numeric rating scale. Neck disability index (NDI) was used to record pain-related disability. We applied Wilcoxon signed-rank test to compare the expected outcome scores for the two treatments.

Results: Patients reported mean NDI of 42.2 (95% CI 39.6-44.7) at baseline. The expected mean NDI one year after the treatment was 4 (95% CI 3.0-5.1). The expected mean reduction in NDI was 38.3 (95% CI 35.8-40.8). Calculated as a percentage change score, the patients expected a mean reduction of 91.2% (95% CI 89.2-93.2). Patient expectations were higher regarding surgical treatment for arm pain, neck pain and working ability, P < 0.001, but not for headache.

Conclusions: The expected improvement after treatment of cervical radiculopathy was much higher than the previously reported cut-off values for success. Patients with cervical radiculopathy had higher expectations to surgical treatment.

Keywords: Cervical radiculopathy; Minimal important difference (MID); Shared decision-making; Success; Treatment.