We present a review of 553 patients who underwent surgery for intractable sciatica ascribed to prolapsed lumbar intervertebral disc. One surgeon in one institution undertook or supervised all the operations over a period of 16 years.

The total number of primary discectomies included in the study was 531, of which 42 subsequently required a second operation for recurrent sciatica, giving a revision rate of 7.9%. Factors associated with reoperation were analysed. A contained disc protrusion was almost three times more likely to need revision surgery, compared with extruded or sequestrated discs. Patients with primary protrusions had a significantly greater straight-leg raise and reduced incidence of positive neurological findings compared with those with extruded or sequestrated discs. These patients should therefore be selected out clinically and treated by a more enthusiastic conservative programme, since they are three times more likely to require revision surgery.

  • Received June 11, 2002.
  • Accepted April 10, 2003.