A randomised controlled trial of post-operative rehabilitation after surgical decompression of the lumbar spine

Anne F Mannion, Raymond Denzler, Jiri Dvorak, Markus Müntener, Dieter Grob
European Spine Journal 2007, 16 (8): 1101-17
Spinal decompression is the most common type of spinal surgery carried out in the older patient, and is being performed with increasing frequency. Physiotherapy (rehabilitation) is often prescribed after surgery, although its benefits compared with no formal rehabilitation have yet to be demonstrated in randomised control trials. The aim of this randomised controlled trial was to examine the effects on outcome up to 2 years after spinal decompression surgery of two types of postoperative physiotherapy compared with no postoperative therapy (self-management). Hundred and fifty-nine patients (100 men, 59 women; 65 +/- 11 years) undergoing decompression surgery for spinal stenosis/herniated disc were randomised to one of the following programmes beginning 2 months post-op: recommended to "keep active" (CONTROL; n = 54); physiotherapy, spine stabilisation exercises (PT-StabEx; n = 56); physiotherapy, mixed techniques (PT-Mixed; n = 49). Both PT programmes involved 2 x 30 min sessions/week for up to 12 weeks, with home exercises. Pain intensity (0-10 graphic rating scale, for back and leg pain separately) and self-rated disability (Roland Morris) were assessed before surgery, before and after the rehabilitation phase (approx. 2 and 5 months post-op), and at 12 and 24 months after the operation. 'Intention to treat' analyses were used. At 24 months, 151 patients returned questionnaires (effective return rate, excluding 4 deaths, 97%). Significant reductions in leg and back pain and self-rated disability were recorded after surgery (P < 0.05). Pain showed no further changes in any group up to 24 months later, whereas disability declined further during the "rehabilitation" phase (P < 0.05) then stabilised, but with no significant group differences. 12 weeks of post-operative physiotherapy did not influence the course of change in pain or disability up to 24 months after decompression surgery. Advising patients to keep active by carrying out the type of physical activities that they most enjoy appears to be just as good as administering a supervised rehabilitation program, and at no cost to the health-care provider.

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