Recurrence of Pain After Usual Nonoperative Care for Symptomatic Lumbar Disk Herniation: Analysis of Data From the Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial

Pradeep Suri*, Adam M. Pearson, Emily A. Scherer, Wenyan Zhao, Jon D. Lurie, Tamara S. Morgan, James Neil Weinstein

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    13 Scopus citations


    Objective: To determine risks and predictors of recurrent leg and low back pain (LBP) after unstructured, usual nonoperative care for subacute/chronic symptomatic lumbar disk herniation (LDH). Design: Secondary analysis of data from a concurrent randomized trial and observational cohort study. Setting: Thirteen outpatient spine practices. Participants: A total of 199 participants with resolution of leg pain and 142 participants with resolution of LBP from among 478 participants receiving usual nonoperative care for symptomatic LDH. Assessment of Risk Factors: Potential predictors of recurrence included time to initial symptom resolution, sociodemographics, clinical characteristics, work-related factors, imaging-detected herniation characteristics, and baseline pain bothersomeness. Main Outcome Measurements: Leg pain and LBP bothersomeness were assessed by the use of a 0-6 numerical scale at up to 4 years of follow-up. For individuals with initial resolution of leg pain, we defined recurrent leg pain as having leg pain, receiving lumbar epidural steroid injections, or undergoing lumbar surgery subsequent to initial leg pain resolution. We calculated cumulative risks of recurrence by using Kaplan-Meier survival plots and examined predictors of recurrence using Cox proportional hazards models. We used similar definitions for LBP recurrence. Results: One- and 3-year cumulative recurrence risks were 23% and 51% for leg pain, and 28% and 70% for LBP, respectively. Early leg pain resolution did not predict future leg pain recurrence. Complete leg pain resolution (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] 0.47, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.31-0.72) and posterolateral herniation location (aHR 0.61; 95% CI 0.39-0.97) predicted a lower risk of leg pain recurrence, and joint problems (aHR 1.89; 95% CI 1.16-3.05) and smoking (aHR 1.81; 95% CI 1.07-3.05) predicted a greater risk of leg pain recurrence. For participants with complete initial resolution of pain, recurrence risks at 1 and 3 years were 16% and 41% for leg pain and 24% and 59% for LBP, respectively. Conclusions: Recurrence of pain is common after unstructured, usual nonsurgical care for LDH. These risk estimates depend on the specific definitions applied, and the predictors identified require replication in future studies.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)405-414
    Number of pages10
    JournalPM and R
    Issue number5
    StatePublished - May 1 2016

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
    • Rehabilitation
    • Neurology
    • Clinical Neurology


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