Introduction: Resorption after lumbar disk herniation is a common yet unpredictable finding. It is hypothesized that nearly 70% of lumbar herniated nucleus pulposus (HNP) undergo the resorption to a significant degree after acute herniation, which has led to nonoperative management before surgical planning.
Methods: This narrative review on the literature from 4 databases (MEDLINE, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Scopus, and Cochrane) examines historical and recent advancements related to disk resorption. Studies were appraised for their description of the predictive factor (e.g., imaging or morphologic factors), pathophysiology, and treatment recommendations.
Observations: We reviewed 68 articles considering the possibility of resorption of lumbar HNP. Recent literature has proposed various mechanisms (inflammation and neovascularization, dehydration, and mechanical traction) of lumbar disk resorption; however, consensus has yet to be established. Current factors that increase the likelihood of resorption include the initial size of the herniation, sequestration, percentage of rim enhancement on initial gadolinium-based magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), composition of inflammatory mediators, and involvement of the posterior longitudinal ligament.
Conclusion: Heterogeneity in imaging and morphologic factors has led to uncertainty in the identification of which lumbar herniations will resorb. Current factors that increase the likelihood of disk resorption include the initial size of the herniation, sequestration, percentage of rim enhancement on initial MRI, composition of cellular and inflammatory mediators present, and involvement of the posterior longitudinal ligament. This review article highlights the role of disk resorption after herniation without surgical intervention and questions the role of traditional noninflammatory medications after acute herniation. Further research is warranted to refine the ideal patient profile for disk resorption to ultimately avoid unnecessary treatment, thus individualizing patient care.
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