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Sohrab Virk, Avani S. Vaishnav, Jung Kee Mok, Steven McAnany, Sravisht Iyer, Todd J. Albert, Catherine Himo Gang and Sheeraz A. Qureshi


Preoperative pain assessment is often used to gauge the amount of disability in patients with lumbar disc herniation. How high preoperative pain scores impact the clinical course and outcomes of patients after lumbar microdiscectomy is not always clear. Here, the authors aimed to determine whether patients reporting higher preoperative pain scores have worse outcomes after lumbar microdiscectomy than those reporting lower preoperative scores.


The authors performed a retrospective review of patients with symptomatic lumbar disc herniations that had failed to improve with nonsurgical methods and who had undergone tubular lumbar microdiscectomy. Health-related quality of life (HRQOL) scores had been collected in the preoperative and postoperative period. The anatomical severity of disease was graded based on lumbar disc health (Pfirrmann classification), facet degeneration, thecal sac cross-sectional area, and disc herniation grade. Data on each patient’s narcotic consumption and length of stay were collected. A Student t-test and chi-square test were used to compare patients with high preoperative pain scores (HP cohort) and those with lower preoperative scores (non-HP cohort).


One hundred thirty-eight patients were included in this analysis. The 47 patients in the HP cohort had taken more preoperative opioids (12.0 ± 21.2 vs 3.6 ± 11.1 morphine equivalent doses, p = 0.01). However, there was no statistically significant difference in Pfirrmann classification (p > 0.15), facet grade (p > 0.11), thecal sac cross-sectional area (p = 0.45), or disc herniation grade (p = 0.39) between the HP and non-HP cohorts. The latter cohort had statistically significant higher preoperative PROMIS scores (36.5 ± 7.0 vs 29.9 ± 6.4, p < 0.001), SF-12 mental component summary scores (48.7 ± 11.5 vs 38.9 ± 16.1, p < 0.001), and SF-12 physical component summary scores (PCS; 32.4 ± 8.6 vs 27.5 ± 10.0, p = 0.005), but a lower Oswestry Disability Index (56.4 ± 22.1 vs 35.4 ± 15.5, p < 0.001). There were only two time points after microdiscectomy when the HP cohort had worse HRQOL scores: at the 2-week follow-up for SF-12 PCS scores (32.4 ± 8.6 vs 29.3 ± 7.1, p = 0.03) and the 12-week follow-up for PROMIS scores (45.2 ± 9.5 vs 39.5 ± 7.1, p = 0.01). All other postoperative HRQOL measurements were similar between the two cohorts (p > 0.05).


A patient’s perceived severity of disease often does not correlate with the actual clinical pathology on imaging. Although patients who report high pain and have a symptomatic lumbar disc herniation may describe their pain as more extreme, they should be counseled that the outcomes of microdiscectomy are positive.