A new study comparing short-term outcomes of minimally invasive lumbar decompression surgeries to minimally invasive spinal fusions found no significant difference in the amount of time patients needed to return to work. But decompression patients were able to drive and stop taking opioid pain medication sooner than the fusion patients.
Researchers at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City found that it took 117 decompression patients a median of three days to discontinue opioid medication, while it took a median of seven days for 51 spinal fusion patients.
It took 88 decompression patients a median of 14 days to resume driving, while it took 18 days for 45 fusion patients.
The findings are noteworthy, according to Sheeraz Qureshi, MD, an HHS spine surgeon, because a standard open spinal fusion generally entails a much longer recovery and slower return to activities than a standard lumbar decompression.
“Our study is the first of its kind to look at return to activities and discontinuation of narcotic pain medication after single-level lumbar decompression or single-level lumbar spine fusion performed with a minimally invasive technique,” said Qureshi, who was senior investigator for the study.
“All the patients in both groups were able to resume driving and return to work within three weeks of surgery. When you compare this time frame to that of standard open spinal fusion surgery, it’s really striking. Patients having a standard spinal fusion could take six months or longer for a full recovery.”
Degenerative conditions of the lumbar spine, such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis, are common causes of chronic back pain. Patients may consider surgery when conservative treatments such as medication and physical therapy fail to provide relief.
Lumbar decompression surgery involves the removal of a small section of bone or part of a herniated or bulging disc that is pressing on a nerve. Spinal fusion is more extensive surgery, and is performed to stabilize and strengthen the spine. Surgeons join two or more vertebrae together, sometimes using screws and connecting rods.
In recent years, minimally invasive (MI) spine surgery has gained in acceptance and popularity. The technique uses smaller incisions than standard surgery and aims to minimize damage to nearby muscles and other tissues.
Although MI decompressions and MI fusions use the same initial approach to reach the spine with the same size incisions, the fusions are still more extensive surgeries, so pain medication may be needed for a longer period of time, according to Dr. Qureshi.
This study findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.