Sciatica is the hallmark symptom of a lumbar disc herniation (LDH). Up to 90% of LDH patients recover within 12 weeks regardless of treatment. With continued deteriorating symptoms and low patient quality of life, most surgeons recommend surgical discectomy. However, there is not yet a clear consensus regarding the proper timing of surgery. The aim of this study was to evaluate how the duration of preoperative leg pain (sciatic neuralgia) is associated with patient-reported levels of postoperative leg pain reduction and other patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs) in a prospectively collected data set from a large national cohort.
All patients aged 18–65 years undergoing a lumbar discectomy during 2013–2016 and registered in Swespine (the Swedish national spine registry) with 1 year of postoperative follow-up data were included in the study (n = 6216). The patients were stratified into 4 groups according to preoperative pain duration: < 3, 3–12, 12–24, or > 24 months. Patient results assessed with the numeric rating scale (NRS) for leg pain (rated from 0 to 10), global assessment of leg pain, EQ-5D, Oswestry Disability Index (ODI), and patient satisfaction with the final surgical outcome were analyzed and compared with preoperative values and between groups.
A significant improvement was seen 1 year postoperatively regardless of preoperative pain duration (change in NRS score: mean −4.83, 95% CI −4.73 to −4.93 in the entire cohort). The largest decrease in leg pain NRS score (mean −5.59, 95% CI −5.85 to −5.33) was seen in the operated group with the shortest sciatica duration (< 3 months). The patients with a leg pain duration in excess of 12 months had a significantly higher risk of having unchanged radiating leg pain 1 year postoperatively compared with those with < 12-month leg pain duration at the time of surgery (OR 2.41, 95% CI 1.81–3.21, p < 0.0001).
Patients with the shortest leg pain duration (< 3 months) reported superior outcomes in all measured parameters. More significantly, using a 12-month pain duration as a cutoff, patients who had a lumbar discectomy with a preoperative symptom duration < 12 months experienced a larger reduction in leg pain and were more satisfied with their surgical outcome and perception of postoperative leg pain than those with > 12 months of sciatic leg pain.