Persistent low back pain and sciatica in the united states: treatment outcomes

Mohammed BenDebba, Warren S. Torgerson, Robert J. Boyd, Edgar G. Dawson, Russell W. Hardy, James T. Robertson, George W. Sypert, Clark Watts, Donlin M. Long

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Patients with persistent low back pain (LBP) appear to be different in several important ways from patients who have traditionally been classified as patients with acute or chronic LBP, and data on the effectiveness of the treatments prescribed for them are lacking. The aim of the current study was to evaluate the short- and long-term effectiveness of the treatments currently prescribed for these patients. The data reported in this article were gathered as part of a multicenter, prospective, cross-sectional study of patients who were treated for persistent LBP by neurologic and orthopedic surgeons who are recognized specialists in spinal disorders. At enrollment, patients completed a baseline evaluation, and their physicians recorded relevant clinical and treatment data on standardized study forms. At 3, 6, 12, and 24 months after treatment, patients completed follow-up evaluations. Patients were divided into five treatment groups, and effectiveness was evaluated separately for each group using five patient-reported measures of outcome: pain severity, functional disability, psychologic distress, physical symptoms, and health care use. The data revealed that at the 2-year follow-up, the typical patient of the no-treatment group had improved slightly in terms of pain severity and health care use, but had experienced little or no improvement in functional disability, physical symptoms, and psychologic distress. The average patient in the conservative care group reported small improvements in pain severity, functional disability, physical symptoms, and health care use, with no change in psychologic distress. These small improvements occurred within the first 3 months after enrollment, with essentially no change thereafter. The average patient in the immediate surgical care group showed substantial improvement on all of the outcome measures. The observed improvements were evident shortly after treatment and were maintained for the duration of the study. Patients in the delayed surgical care group had outcomes that were less dramatic than those observed in the immediate surgery care group, but greater than those observed in the conservative care group. The patients who were treated surgically by physicians outside the study, outside surgical care group, did not improve over time. Patients with persistent LBP who received no treatment showed no spontaneous recovery. Conservative care treatments prescribed by surgeons who specialize in spinal disorders, did not appear to be any more effective than no treatment. The outcome of surgery for persistent LBP varied from dramatic for one subgroup of surgical patients, to poor for another subgroup of patients. Patients who were selected immediately for surgical treatment improved substantially. Those treated surgically later by study physicians or by physicians not associated with the study fared less well.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-15
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Spinal Disorders and Techniques
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2002


  • Functional disability
  • Health care use
  • Low back pain
  • Pain severity
  • Patient outcomes
  • Physical symptoms
  • Psychologic distress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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