Recurrent lumbar disc herniation (RLDH) is a significant cause of morbidity in patients undergoing lumbar discectomy and has been reported to occur in up to 18% of cases. While repeat discectomy is often successful in treating these patients, concern over repeat RLDH may lead surgeons to advocate instrumented fusion even in the absence of instability. The authors' goal was to compare clinical outcomes for patients undergoing repeat discectomy versus instrumented fusion for RLDH.
The authors used the National Neurosurgery Quality and Outcomes Database (N2QOD) to assess outcomes of patients who underwent repeat discectomy versus instrumented fusion at a single institution from 2012 to 2015. Primary outcomes included Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) score, visual analog scale (VAS) score, and quality-adjusted life year (QALY) measures. Secondary outcomes included hospital length of stay, discharge status, and hospital charges.
The authors identified 25 repeat discectomy and 12 instrumented fusion patients with 3- and 12-month follow-up records. The groups had similar ODI and VAS scores and QALY measurements at 3 and 12 months. Patients in the instrumented fusion group had significantly longer hospitalizations (3.7 days vs 1.0 days, p < 0.001) and operative times (229.6 minutes vs 82.7 minutes, p < 0.001). They were also more likely to be female (p = 0.020) and to be discharged to inpatient rehabilitation instead of home (p = 0.036). Hospital charges for the instrumented fusion group were also significantly higher ($54,458.29 vs $11,567.05, p < 0.001). Rates of reoperation were higher in the repeat discectomy group (12% vs 0%), but the difference was not statistically significant (p = 0.211).
Repeat discectomy and instrumented fusion result in similar clinical outcomes at short-term follow-up. Patients undergoing repeat discectomy had significantly shorter operative times and length of stay, and they incurred dramatically lower hospital charges. They were also less likely to require acute rehabilitation postoperatively. Further research is needed to compare these two management strategies.