Study Reveals Time from Disk Herniation to Surgery Impacts Return to Work

Disc problems are frequently the cause of back pain. In some cases the discs are bulging out of place, flattened beyond the edges of the vertebrae as a result of degeneration and aging. The condition is painful, but rarely debilitating. By contrast, discs that are herniated have had their outer bands torn, allowing the jelly-like interior of the disc to put pressure on the nerves that arise from the spinal column. Herniated discs are often the result of work injuries from bending, twisting or lifting, and the intricacies of reporting and responding to work-related injuries often impact the time to treatment. Now a collaborative study has assessed the role that elapsed time between injury and surgery plays in an employee’s return to work.

The study was conducted by a group that included researchers from the University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, and the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, as well as many others, and was published in the journal Orthopedics. The group analyzed medical data from a total of 10,592 patients who had suffered lumbar disk herniation to determine the optimal timing of lumbar discectomy. All of the patients were injured between 2005 and 2012 and had received lost-work compensation from the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation. The analysis focused on 1,287 of these employees who underwent surgery following their injury, finding that the range of time between herniation and discectomy was between two days and 2,710 days, with an average of 364 days.

The group found that the shorter the amount of time between injury and surgery, the greater the chance that the employees ended up going back to work. There was a similar negative correlation between time to surgery and the number of psychotherapy, chiropractic and physical therapy sessions as well as of postoperative diagnoses of psychological illness.

In assessing the impact of time elapsed and the return to work, the researchers concluded that duration of time spent suffering from the pain of nerve compression from a herniated disc had a direct result on whether an injured employee receiving workers’ compensation returns to work, with 12 weeks between injury and surgery representing a benchmark at which approximately 70% of workers are likely to return to work.

If you have suffered a back injury at work, it is important that you get your condition diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible. If your pain extends to one or both legs or into your buttocks, there is a strong possibility that you have suffered a lumbar disc herniation. A consultation with our spine surgery practice in New Jersey will include a thorough physical exam designed to identify the exact cause of your symptoms. We will order diagnostic tests to confirm a diagnosis and then help you decide the best treatment option available.

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