Opioid analgesics have become some of the most prescribed drugs in the world, despite the lack of long-term studies evaluating the benefits of opioid medications versus their risks associated with chronic use. In addition, long-term opioid use may be associated with worse long-term clinical outcomes. The primary objective of this study was to evaluate whether preoperative opioid use predicted inferior clinical outcomes among patients undergoing transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF) for symptomatic lumbar degenerative disc disease.
The authors of this observational study prospectively enrolled 93 patients who underwent 1-level to 2-level TLIFs in 2011–2014; the patient cohort was divided into 2 groups according to preoperative opioid use or no such use. Visual analog scale (VAS) scores for low-back pain and leg pain, Oswestry Disability Index scores, and the scores of the mental component summary (MCS) and physical component summary (PCS) on the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey were used to assess pain, disability, and health-related quality of life outcomes, respectively. The clinical scores for the 2 groups were determined preoperatively and at a 12-month follow-up examination.
In total, 60 (64.5%) patients took prescribed opioid medications preoperatively. Compared with those not taking opioids preoperatively, these patients had significantly higher VAS scores for low-back pain (p = 0.016), greater disability (p = 0.013), and lower PCS scores (p = 0.03) at the 12-month follow-up. The postoperative MCS scores were also significantly lower (p = 0.035) in the opioid-use group, but these lower scores were due to significantly lower baseline MCS scores in this group. A linear regression analysis did not detect opioid dose–related effects on leg and back pain, disability, and MCS and PCS scores, suggesting that poorer outcomes are not significantly correlated with higher opioid doses taken by the patients.
The use of opioid medications to control pain before patients underwent lumbar fusion for degenerative lumbar conditions was associated with less favorable clinical outcomes postoperatively. This is the first study that has demonstrated this association in a homogeneous cohort of patients undergoing TLIF; this association should be studied further to evaluate the conclusions of the present study.
Clinical trial registration no.: NCT01406405 (clinicaltrials.gov)