Methods: One hundred twenty patients presenting through elective referral by primary care physicians to neurosurgical spine surgeons were consecutively screened for symptoms of unilateral lumbar radiculopathy secondary to LDH at L3-4, L4-5, or L5-S1. Forty consecutive consenting patients who met inclusion criteria (patients must have failed at least 3 months of nonoperative management including treatment with analgesics, lifestyle modification, physiotherapy, massage therapy, and/or acupuncture) were randomized to either surgical microdiskectomy or standardized chiropractic spinal manipulation. Crossover to the alternate treatment was allowed after 3 months.
Results: Significant improvement in both treatment groups compared to baseline scores over time was observed in all outcome measures. After 1 year, follow-up intent-to-treat analysis did not reveal a difference in outcome based on the original treatment received. However, 3 patients crossed over from surgery to spinal manipulation and failed to gain further improvement. Eight patients crossed from spinal manipulation to surgery and improved to the same degree as their primary surgical counterparts.
Conclusions: Sixty percent of patients with sciatica who had failed other medical management benefited from spinal manipulation to the same degree as if they underwent surgical intervention. Of 40% left unsatisfied, subsequent surgical intervention confers excellent outcome. Patients with symptomatic LDH failing medical management should consider spinal manipulation followed by surgery if warranted.
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