Lumbar disc herniations: surgical versus nonsurgical treatment

John N Awad, Ronald Moskovich
Clinical Orthopaedics and related Research 2006, 443: 183-97

UNLABELLED: Lumbar disc herniation is among the most common causes of lower-back pain and sciatica. The cause(s) of lumbar disc herniation and the relation of lumbar disc herniation to back pain and sciatica have not been fully elucidated, but most likely comprise a complex combination of mechanical and biologic processes. Furthermore, the natural history of lumbar disc herniation seems generally to be favorable, leaving the optimum treatment for lumbar disc herniation a debate in the literature. Various nonoperative and operative treatment strategies have been tried with varying degrees of success. Treatment often involves patient education, physical therapy, alternative medicine options, and pharmaco-therapy. If these fail, surgical intervention is usually recommended. A literature search was conducted to evaluate the currently known effectiveness of traditional and novel non-operative and surgical techniques for the treatment lumbar disc herniation and to determine if there are substantive new advantages in these newer contemporary treatments or combinations thereof. A structured approach to treatment of a patient who may have a symptomatic lumbar disc herniation is presented, based on analysis of the current literature. No one method of nonoperative or operative treatment would seem definitively to be superior to another. Appropriate multidisciplinary treatment including behavioral analysis and support may offer the hope of improved outcomes for patients with lumbar disc herniation.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level V (expert opinion). See the Guidelines for Authors for a complete description of the levels of evidence.

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