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No correlation identified between the proportional size of a prolapsed intravertebral disc with disability or leg pain

PainSci » bibliography » Dunsmuir et al 2022
Tags: spine, back pain, pain problems

PainSci commentary on Dunsmuir 2022: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

Fifty-six patients with uncomplicated lumbar disc prolapse were carefully assessed, finding almost no correlation at all between symptoms and the size and position of the bulge — technically, the Pearson correlation coefficients were near zero for both pain and disability (.05 and .07).

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

AIMS: The aim of the study was to determine if there was a direct correlation between the pain and disability experienced by patients and size of their disc prolapse, measured by the disc's cross-sectional area on T2 axial MRI scans.

METHODS: Patients were asked to prospectively complete visual analogue scale (VAS) and Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) scores on the day of their MRI scan. All patients with primary disc herniation were included. Exclusion criteria included recurrent disc herniation, cauda equina syndrome, or any other associated spinal pathology. T2 weighted MRI scans were reviewed on picture archiving and communications software. The T2 axial image showing the disc protrusion with the largest cross sectional area was used for measurements. The area of the disc and canal were measured at this level. The size of the disc was measured as a percentage of the cross-sectional area of the spinal canal on the chosen image. The VAS leg pain and ODI scores were each correlated with the size of the disc using the Pearson correlation coefficient (PCC). Intraobserver reliability for MRI measurement was assessed using the interclass correlation coefficient (ICC). We assessed if the position of the disc prolapse (central, lateral recess, or foraminal) altered the symptoms described by the patient. The VAS and ODI scores from central and lateral recess disc prolapses were compared.

RESULTS: A total of 56 patients (mean age 41.1 years (22.8 to 70.3)) were included. A high degree of intraobserver reliability was observed for MRI measurement: single measure ICC was 0.99 (95% confidence interval (CI) from 0.97 to 0.99 (p < 0.001)). The PCC comparing VAS leg scores with canal occupancy for herniated disc was 0.056. The PCC comparing ODI for herniated disc was 0.070. We found 13 disc prolapses centrally and 43 lateral recess prolapses. There were no foraminal prolapses in this group. The position of the prolapse was not found to be related to the mean VAS score or ODI experienced by the patients (VAS, p = 0.251; ODI, p = 0.093).

CONCLUSION: The results of the statistical analysis show that there is no direct correlation between the size or position of the disc prolapse and a patient's symptoms. The symptoms experienced by patients should be the primary concern in deciding to perform discectomy.

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