Back pain and leg pain may be caused by lumbar disk herniation. It may be necessary to treat the condition by surgery, if it persists. Patients who have a short period of sick leave before the surgery are more satisfied with the result of the procedure than those who are off work sick longer. This is the conclusion of a thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
"The aim of the work described in the thesis was to discover factors that influence the result of surgery and to identify which patients have the greatest benefit of surgery", says Katarina Silverplats, doctor at the Department of Orthopaedics at Sahlgrenska University Hospital and researcher at the Department of Orthopaedics at the Sahlgrenska Academy.
A total of 183 patients were studied, and they were followed for up to 10 years after the surgery.
"One thing we found was that over 60% of the patients were still satisfied with the result of the surgery between 2 and 10 years afterwards, and nearly all had an improved quality of life than they had had before it", says Katarina Silverplats.
One surprising result was that patients who had been off work sick less than 2 months before the surgery were more satisfied with the result than those who had been off work a longer period. For example, approximately seven out of ten patients who had had a short period of sick leave were able to return to full employment, while the corresponding figure for those who had been off work more than 6 months was as low as one in four.
The mean age of patients who suffer from disk herniation is just over 40 years, and this group of patients is active in the labour market. It is therefore important that treatment starts as soon as possible.
"If it is decided that surgery is the preferred treatment for a particular patient, the procedure should be carried out within 2-3 months, in order to achieve as good as result as possible and the possibility of a rapid return to work. This requires a well-functioning healthcare system without long queues", says Katarina Silverplats.
Disk herniation occurs when a part of the disk that sits between the vertebrae is squeezed out such that it protrudes beyond the edges of the vertebral bodies at a certain point. Lower back (or lumbar) disk herniation can exert pressure on a nerve root and cause pain further down in the leg. It has been calculated that approximately 1-2% of Sweden's population suffer from disk herniation, and surgery is the best solution for approximately 10% of these.