A herniated disk happens to be one of the most frequent reasons for low back and leg pain in adults, but not all patients require surgery, a literature review has indicated.
Led by Joseph Lee, the review claimed that between 60 and 80 percent of people will experience low back pain at some point in their lives
Disks, which are strong shock absorbers between the vertebrae, can begin to herniate or weaken when their jelly-like nucleus pushes against the outer ring due to aging or a sudden injury.
This pressure against the outer ring is often what causes lower back pain.
"Orthopaedic surgeons can help by educating patients about the risks of back surgery and work with the patient to determine the best course of treatment, whether it be surgical or non-surgical," said review co-author Dr. Mark Weidenbaum at New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Milstein Pavilion, Columbia University Medical Center, New York.
A herniated disk can sometimes be very painful and most people feel better with just a few months of nonsurgical treatment, which can consist of physical therapy, medications or epidural steroids.
However, some patients are treated with a surgical procedure known as a diskectomy.
"The main thing for patients who may be contemplating surgery for back pain is that it must be a mutual decision agreed upon by both doctor and patient. Both parties need to discuss the type of disk herniation and all the potential options for treatment before deciding on surgery," said Weidenbaum.
Many patients find relief after a diskectomy, but approximately 5 percent to 15 percent of patients experience a recurrent disk herniation, defined as back and/or leg pain recurring after a definite pain-free period from the initial surgery, then pain begins again.
Treatment for recurrent lumbar disk herniation may include aggressive medical management and surgical intervention.
In addition, the review cited literature indicated that patients with larger herniations are more likely to experience a recurrence of pain.
They also stated that patients who had endoscopic surgery (less invasive) might be more likely to experience a recurrence than patients who had a more invasive procedure.
"When a patient has recurring pain, surgeons should perform a complete workup, including an MRI, to learn whether the cause is actually recurrent disk herniation or another problem, such as spinal instability. If a patient has spinal instability a revision diskectomy isn't going to help that person-another type of surgery may be needed," said Weidenbaum.
The study is published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (JAAOS).