The Incredible Shrinking DiscThis is the second part of an ongoing study on the long-term results of patients with lumbar disc herniation. None of the patients had surgery. The first study reported on results after two years. The disc herniation decreased during the first year and even showed improvement during the second year.
The authors continued to follow the same patients for seven years or more. Only half of the patients in part one were in part two. Some couldn't be found. Others objected to the waste of time and money. Some refused to come because they didn't have any symptoms.
For those who were part of the study, their symptoms were compared with MRI results. The MRI showed the size of the herniated disc in relation to the spinal canal. It also showed how much the disc had degenerated.
In 95 percent of the patients the herniation got smaller over time. The amount of shrinkage didn't seem to be related to the initial size of the herniation. The speed at which the herniation went down wasn't related either.
And there wasn't a link between patient symptoms and MRI findings. In other words, there was no difference between patients with and patients without symptoms in terms of herniation decreasing in size.
Knowing the final outcome of disc herniation treated without surgery may help doctors plan treatment for new patients with disc problems. In this study the researchers were unable to find any factors that would tell who would have continued back or leg pain. They do confirm the fact that recovery from disc herniation is possible without surgery.
Tetsuo Masui, MD, et al. Natural History of Patients with Lumbar Disc Herniation Observed by Magnetic Resonance Imaging for Minimum 7 Years. In Journal of Spinal Disorders. April 2005. Vol. 18. No. 2. Pp. 121-126.
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