Returning To Work After Cervical Spinal Fusion

Category: Spine Surgery | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: July 28, 2016

return to work after surgery

Everyone wants to know when they’ll be able to return to work after a spinal operation, but there isn’t always a definitive answer. A recent article in Spine examined how quickly patients could return to work after spinal fusion surgery. The data looked at more than 21,150 patients who underwent either single-level cervical fusion for radiculopathy verses fusion for degenerative disc disease between 1993 and 2011. Here are five things researchers learned:

  1. There were a number of factors that influenced return-to-work after spinal fusion surgery, including:
  • Degenerative disc disease diagnosis
  • Being older than 50 years old
  • Being out of work for more than six months
  • Opioid use
  • Legal litigation
  • Permanent disability
  1. Patients who underwent spinal fusion to address degenerative disc disease reported lower rates of return-to-work success and were less likely to sustain a successful return-to-work status compared to those in the radioculopathy group.
  1. One year after surgery, 39.9 percent of people in the DDD surgery group had returned to work, compared to 53.1 in the radioculopathy group.
  1. Patients in the degenerative disc disease group reported 112 more absent days from work than those in the radiculopathy group.
  1. Researchers concluded that physicians should only recommend fusion surgery under two circumstances – Only after conservative measures have failed and only when radiographic abnormalities at the symptomatic level are present in patients with mechanical back or neck pain without radicular symptoms.

Researchers concluded by saying that “the decision to include surgical intervention in the management plan of cervical DDD should be approached with caution as the surgical outcome might not necessarily lead to improved postsurgical functionality and achieve sustained early return to work.”

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