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Surgery Trumps Non-Invasive Treatment for Herniated Discs

Update Date: Dec 28, 2013 11:17 AM EST
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In a new study, researchers compared the effectiveness of having surgery or getting non-invasive treatment for herniated discs. Herniated discs occur when the discs, which act as cushions in between bones, slip out of their positions. Slipped or ruptured discs can be extremely painful and lead to numbness. The researchers found that for people with herniated discs in their lumbar spine, surgery might be a more effective option than non-invasive treatment.

"Carefully selected patients who underwent surgery for a lumbar disc herniation achieved greater improvement than non-operatively treated patients," according to lead author Dr. Jon D. Lurie of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the Geisel School of Medicine and colleagues reported by Medical Xpress.

For this study, the research team examined the data from the Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial (SPORT), which recruited patients who had herniated discs in their lumbar spine. The patients had received either surgery or noninvasive therapies, such as physical therapy, pain-relieving medications and exercise. SPORT is one of the largest clinical trials centered on surgery for spinal disorders.

In this study, the researchers had focused on 1,244 patients who were treated at 13 spine clinics throughout the country. Roughly 500 of the patients were assigned to undergo a surgical procedure called discectomy or a nonsurgical treatment. The patients were allowed to cross over to the other treatment group. The rest of the patients in the study were allowed to choose which form of treatment they wanted based on their own personal preference and recommendations by their doctors.

The researchers compared patient outcomes and found that people who received surgery had better results than people who chose noninvasive therapies. The patients were asked to rate their level of pain on a 100-point scale and the researchers found that surgical patients had scores that were roughly 11 points lower. The researchers also discovered that surgical patients had higher satisfaction levels and greater self-reported improvement. The researchers reported that people in the nonsurgical group also had improvements.

"[S]urgery was superior to non-operative treatment in relieving symptoms and improving function," Lurie said.

The study was published in Spine.

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