Fusion versus nonoperative care for chronic low back pain: do psychological factors affect outcomes?

Michael D Daubs, Daniel C Norvell, Robert McGuire, Robert Molinari, Jeffrey T Hermsmeyer, Daryl R Fourney, J P Wolinsky, Darrel Brodke
Spine 2011 October 1, 36 (21 Suppl): S96-109

STUDY DESIGN: Systematic review.

OBJECTIVE: The objectives of this systematic review were to determine whether fusion is superior to conservative management in certain psychological subpopulations and to determine the most common psychological screening tests and their ability to predict outcome after treatment in patients with chronic lower back pain.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Many studies have documented the effects of various psychological disorders on outcomes in the treatment of lower back pain. The question of whether patients with certain psychological disorders would benefit more from conservative treatment than fusion is not clear. Furthermore, the most appropriate screening tools for assessing psychological factors in the presence of treatment decision making should be recommended.

METHODS: Systematic review of the literature, focused on randomized controlled trials to assess the heterogeneity of treatment effect of psychological factors on the outcomes of fusion versus nonoperative care of the treatment of chronic low back pain. In the analysis of psychological screening tests, we searched for the most commonly reported questionnaires and those that had been shown to predict lower back pain treatment outcomes.

RESULTS: Few studies comparing fusion to conservative management reported differences in outcome by the presence or absence of a psychological disorder. Among those that did, we observed the effect of fusion compared with conservative management was more favorable in patients without a personality disorder, neuroticism, or depression. The most commonly reported, validated psychological screening tests for lower back pain are the Beck Depression Inventory, the Fear Avoidance Belief Questionnaire, the Spielberger Trait Anxiety Inventory, the Zung Depression Scale, and the Distress Risk Assessment Method.

CONCLUSION: Psychological disorders affect chronic lower back pain treatment outcomes. Patients with a personality disorder appear to respond more favorably to conservative management and those without a personality disorder more favorably to fusion. Patients with higher depression and neuroticism scores may also respond more favorably to conservative management.

CLINICAL RECOMMENDATIONS: Recommendation 1: Chronic LBP patients with depression, neuroticism, and certain personality disorders should preferentially be treated nonoperatively. Strength of recommendation: Weak. Recommendation 2: Consider the use of a validated psychological screening questionnaire such as the BDI, FABQ, DRAM, ZDI or STAI, when treating patients with CLBP. Strength of recommendation: Weak.

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