Obesity is not only a factor that increases a person’s odds of requiring back surgery for a slipped or ruptured disc, but it also makes it less likely that such an operation will be successful, new research shows.
The study, published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, compared the success rates of nearly 1,200 patients with herniated discs and found surgical and nonsurgical treatments were far less successful in those who were obese than those who were lean. What’s more, heavier patients who underwent back surgery had markedly greater operative times, blood loss, and longer hospital stays than their slimmer counterparts.
"The findings suggest that obese patients with symptomatic lumbar disc herniation do not do as well as non-obese patients with nonsurgical or surgical treatment," said lead researcher Jeffrey Rihn, M.D., associate professor at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and The Rothman Institute.
For the study, researchers compared the experiences of 336 obese patients being treated for herniated discs to a comparable group of 854 who were not obese over a four-year period. At the end of the study, the results showed improvements in function were less for obese patients who underwent surgery or received non-surgical treatments.
Other Key Findings:
• Obese patients had significantly less improvement in sciatica and low-back pain.
• The benefit of surgery over non-operative treatment was not affected by body weight.
• Recurrence of disc herniation and need for additional surgical procedures did not differ significantly between obese and non-obese patients — a finding contradicts previous studies on this topic.
"The results of this study may be helpful in educating patients about their treatment options and expected outcomes," said Dr. Rihn. "These findings may suggest that weight loss should be encouraged in patients with this condition. However, this study does not specifically address whether weight loss in obese patients would affect their clinical outcome with nonsurgical or surgical treatment."