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Clinical outcomes research in spine surgery: what are appropriate follow-up times?

Presented at the 2018 AANS/CNS Joint Section on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves

Oliver G. S. Ayling, Tamir Ailon, Greg McIntosh, Alex Soroceanu, Hamilton Hall, Andrew Nataraj, Christopher S. Bailey, Sean Christie, Alexandra Stratton, Henry Ahn, Michael Johnson, Jerome Paquet, Kenneth Thomas, Neil Manson, Y. Raja Rampersaud, and Charles G. Fisher

OBJECTIVE

There has been a generic dictum in spine and musculoskeletal clinical research that a minimum 2-year follow-up is necessary for patient-reported outcomes (PROs) to adequately assess the therapeutic effect of surgery; however, the rationale for this duration is not evidence based. The purpose of this study was to determine the follow-up time necessary to ensure that the effectiveness of a lumbar surgical intervention is adequately captured for three lumbar pathologies and three common PROs.

METHODS

Using the different PROs of pain, physical function, and mental quality of life from the Canadian Spine Outcomes and Research Network (CSORN) prospective database, the authors assessed the time course to the recovery plateau following lumbar spine surgery for lumbar disc herniation, degenerative spondylolisthesis, and spinal stenosis. One-way ANOVA with post hoc testing was used to compare scores on the following standardized PRO measures at baseline and 3, 12, and 24 months postoperatively: Disability Scale (DS), visual analog scale (VAS) for leg and back pain, and SF-12 Mental Component Summary (MCS) and Physical Component Summary (PCS).

RESULTS

Significant differences for all spine pathologies and specific PROs were found with one-way ANOVA (p < 0.0001). The time to plateaued recovery after surgery for lumbar disc herniation (661 patients), lumbar stenosis (913 patients), and lumbar spondylolisthesis (563 patients) followed the same course for the following PRO measures: VAS for back and leg pain, 3 months; DS, 12 months; PCS, 12 months; and MCS, 3 months. Beyond these time points, no further significant improvements in PROs were seen. Patients with degenerative spondylolisthesis or spinal stenosis who had undergone fusion surgery plateaued at 12 months on the DS and PCS, compared to 3 months in those who had not undergone fusion.

CONCLUSIONS

Specific health dimensions follow distinctly different recovery plateaus, indicating that a 2-year postoperative follow-up is not required for all PROs to accurately assess the treatment effect of lumbar spinal surgery. Ultimately, the clinical research question should dictate the follow-up time and the outcome measure utilized; however, there is now evidence to guide the specific duration of follow-up for pain, physical function, and mental quality of life dimensions.

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Supriya Singh, Tamir Ailon, Greg McIntosh, Nicolas Dea, Jerome Paquet, Edward Abraham, Christopher S. Bailey, Michael H. Weber, Michael G. Johnson, Andrew Nataraj, R. Andrew Glennie, Najmedden Attabib, Adrienne Kelly, Hamilton Hall, Y. Raja Rampersaud, Neil Manson, Philippe Phan, Kenneth Thomas, Charles G. Fisher, and Raphaële Charest-Morin

OBJECTIVE

Time to return to work (RTW) after elective lumbar spine surgery is variable and dependent on many factors including patient, work-related, and surgical factors. The primary objective of this study was to describe the time and rate of RTW after elective lumbar spine surgery. Secondary objectives were to determine predictors of early RTW (< 90 days) and no RTW in this population.

METHODS

A retrospective analysis of prospectively collected data from the multicenter Canadian Spine Outcomes and Research Network (CSORN) surgical registry was performed to identify patients who were employed and underwent elective 1- or 2-level discectomy, laminectomy, and/or fusion procedures between January 2015 and December 2019. The percentage of patients who returned to work and the time to RTW postoperatively were calculated. Predictors of early RTW and not returning to work were determined using a multivariable Cox regression model and a multivariable logistic regression model, respectively.

RESULTS

Of the 1805 employed patients included in this analysis, 71% returned to work at a median of 61 days. The median RTW after a discectomy, laminectomy, or fusion procedure was 51, 46, and 90 days, respectively. Predictors of early RTW included male gender, higher education level (high school or above), higher preoperative Physical Component Summary score, working preoperatively, a nonfusion procedure, and surgery in a western Canadian province (p < 0.05). Patients who were working preoperatively were twice as likely to RTW within 90 days (HR 1.984, 95% CI 1.680–2.344, p < 0.001) than those who were employed but not working. Predictors of not returning to work included symptoms lasting more than 2 years, an increased number of comorbidities, an education level below high school, and an active workers’ compensation claim (p < 0.05). There were fourfold odds of not returning to work for patients who had not been working preoperatively (OR 4.076, 95% CI 3.087–5.383, p < 0.001).

CONCLUSIONS

In the Canadian population, 71% of a preoperatively employed segment returned to work after 1- or 2-level lumbar spine surgery. Most patients who undergo a nonfusion procedure RTW after 6 to 8 weeks, whereas patients undergoing a fusion procedure RTW at 12 weeks. Working preoperatively significantly increased the likelihood of early RTW.