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An analysis of reasons for failed back surgery syndrome and partial results after different types of surgical lumbar nerve root decompression.

Pain Physician 2011 November
BACKGROUND: Despite the evident progress in treating vertebral column degenerative diseases, the rate of a so-called "failed back surgery syndrome" associated with pain and disability remains relatively high. However, this term has an imprecise definition and includes several different morbid conditions following spinal surgery, not all of which directly illustrate the efficacy of the applied technology; furthermore, some of them could even be irrelevant.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate and systematize the reasons for persistent pain syndromes following surgical nerve root decompression.

STUDY DESIGN: Prospective, nonrandomized, cohort study of 138 consecutive patients with radicular pain syndromes, associated with nerve root compression caused by lumbar disc herniation, and resistant to conservative therapy for at least one month. The minimal period of follow-up was 18 months.

SETTING: Hospital outpatient department, Russian Federation

METHODS: Pre-operatively, patients were examined clinically, applying the visual analog scale (VAS), Oswestry Disability Index (ODI), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), discography and computed tomography (CT). According to the disc herniation morphology and applied type of surgery, all participants were divided into the following groups: for those with disc extrusion or sequester, microdiscectomy was applied (n = 65); for those with disc protrusion, nucleoplasty was applied (n = 46); for those with disc extrusion, nucleoplasty was applied (n = 27). After surgery, participants were examined clinically and the VAS and ODI were applied. All those with permanent or temporary pain syndromes were examined applying MRI imaging, functional roentgenograms, and, to validate the cause of pain syndromes, different types of blocks were applied (facet joint blocks, paravertebral muscular blocks, transforaminal and caudal epidural blocks).

RESULTS: Group 1 showed a considerable rate of pain syndromes related to tissue damage during the intervention; the rates of radicular pain caused by epidural scar and myofascial pain were 12.3% and 26.1% respectively. Facet joint pain was found in 23.1% of the cases. Group 2 showed a significant rate of facet joint pain (16.9%) despite the minimally invasive intervention. The specificity of Group 3 was the very high rate of unresolved or recurred nerve root compression (63.0%); in other words, in the majority of cases, the aim of the intervention was not achieved. The results of the applied intervention were considered clinically significant if 50% pain relief on the VAS and a 40% decrease in the ODI were achieved.

LIMITATIONS: This study is limited because of the loss of participants to follow-up and because it is nonrandomized; also it could be criticized because the dynamics of numeric scores were not provided.

CONCLUSION: The results of our study show that an analysis of the reasons for failures and partial effects of applied interventions for nerve root decompression may help to understand better the efficacy of the interventions and could be helpful in improving surgical strategies, otherwise the validity of the conclusion could be limited because not all sources of residual pain illustrate the applied technology efficacy. In the majority of cases, the cause of the residual or recurrent pain can be identified, and this may open new possibilities to improve the condition of patients presenting with failed back surgery syndrome.

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