Improvement, Not Cure, with Spinal Fusion
Doctors give mixed reviews of spinal fusion as a treatment for low back pain. Some researchers say the studies done so far are of poor quality. This study was designed to improve the quality of data collected from patients. The idea was to find out how well the operation worked. Patients were also asked if they were satisfied with the results.
Besides patient satisfaction, other measures of outcomes were pain levels, return to work, and use of drugs. Thirty-five patients had spinal fusion, but only 28 stayed in the study. Patients rated their results as excellent, good, fair, or poor. The also reported whether they would do it again if they had the choice.
Most of the patients (86 percent) said they would have the same operation if they had to do it over. This was true even though only 28.6 percent thought the operation was a success. The authors think this response reflects the fact that patients improved but weren't cured after spinal fusion. Pain levels were better, and the patients could use less medication. Many were able to go back to work.
The findings of this study support the use of spinal fusion. The authors suggest patients should be told to expect to get better but not to expect a complete recovery.
Peter A. Robertson, MD, FRACS, and Suzanne A. Jackson, FRCS, FRACS. Prospective Assessment of Outcomes Improvement Following Fusion for Low Back Pain. In Journal of Spinal Disorders & Techniques. June 2004. Vol. 17. No. 3. Pp. 183-188.