Opioids are commonly prescribed after surgery for painful spinal conditions, yet little is known about postoperative opioid use. The relationship between chronic opioid use and patient-reported outcomes and satisfaction with surgery is also unclear. The purpose of this study was to evaluate factors associated with opioid use 1 year after elective cervical spine surgery for degenerative conditions causing radiculopathy and myelopathy. The authors hypothesized that patients with preoperative opioid use would be more likely to report postoperative opioid use at 1 year, and that postoperative opioid use would be associated with patient-reported outcomes and dissatisfaction with surgery.
The authors performed a retrospective study of a prospective cohort of adult patients who underwent elective cervical spine surgery for degenerative changes causing radiculopathy or myelopathy. Patients were prospectively and consecutively enrolled from a single academic center after the decision for surgery had been made. Postoperative in-hospital pain management was conducted using a standardized protocol. The primary outcome was any opioid use 1 year after surgery. Secondary outcomes were the Neck Disability Index (NDI); 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36) physical function (PF), bodily pain (BP), and mental component summary (MCS) scores; the modified Japanese Orthopaedic Association (mJOA) score among myelopathy patients; and patient expectations surveys. Patients with and without preoperative opioid use were compared using the chi-square and Student t-tests, and multiple logistic regression was used to study the associations between patient and surgical characteristics and postoperative opioid use 1 year after surgery.
Two hundred eleven patients were prospectively and consecutively enrolled, of whom 39 were lost to follow-up for the primary outcome; 43.6% reported preoperative opioid use. Preoperative NDI and SF-36 PF and BP scores were significantly worse in the preoperative opioid cohort. More than 94% of both cohorts rated expectations of pain relief as extremely or somewhat important. At 1 year after surgery, 50.7% of the preoperative-opioid-use cohort reported ongoing opioid use, and 17.5% of patients in the no-preoperative-opioid-use cohort reported ongoing opioid use. Despite this, both cohorts reported similar improvements in NDI as well as SF-36 PF, BP, and MCS scores. More than 70% of both cohorts also reported being extremely or somewhat satisfied with pain relief after surgery. Predictors of 1-year opioid use included preoperative opioid use, duration of symptoms for more than 9 months before surgery, tobacco use, and higher comorbidity index.
One year after elective cervical spine surgery, patients with preoperative opioid use were significantly more likely to report ongoing opioid use. However, patients in both groups reported similar improvements in patient-reported outcomes and satisfaction with pain relief. Interventions targeted at decreasing opioid use may need to focus on patient factors such as preoperative opioid use or duration of symptoms before surgery.