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Back Surgery Offers Long-Term Societal Benefits, According to New Study

Workplace Productivity a Significant Issue for Americans Suffering from Herniated Discs

ROSEMONT, Ill., March 12, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Annually, more than 10 million people experience back pain in the United States. More than 200,000 of these patients undergo surgery to alleviate pain due to a herniated disc. Surgery to remove the disc has been found to be an effective way to improve these patients' quality of life in cases where conservative treatment is ineffective, but until now, little was known about the societal benefits of surgery and workplace productivity in particular. A new study uncovered that the estimated average annual earnings of working patients who undergo surgery are $47,619, compared to $45,694 for those with non-surgical treatments. Therefore, the annual earnings are increased by $1,925 for those patients receiving surgery. Additionally, patients who undergo surgery miss three fewer days of work each year as compared to patients who elect for nonsurgical treatment.

The new study, published in the April issue of The Journal of Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research (CORR) suggests surgical treatment for herniated discs increases average annual earnings and reduces the number of work days employees miss due to back pain. The authors of "Cost-effectiveness of Lumbar Discectomy," found these surgeries are cost-effective and may result in savings to society when patients' back pain is alleviated over the long term. The study found that over a four-year period, surgery resulted in cost offsets of more than $5,000 due to higher earnings for patients receiving surgery.

For example, terrible back pain following an injury on the field limited lacrosse coach Scott Hiller from coaching, and even made it difficult to perform everyday tasks such as walking around the house and holding his children. After trying non-operative treatments, Scott underwent disc herniation repair surgery and now is able to live a life without pain due to a herniated disc.

"Back pain is one of the most common and the most difficult orthopaedic conditions for patients, since both standing and sitting may exacerbate the pain. As a result, whether you work in physical labor or sitting at a desk, back pain can affect your ability to work," said Michael Schafer, MD, professor of orthopaedic surgery, Northwestern University and an author of the study. "Pain from a herniated disc causes the average employee to miss 26 days of work each year and spend 34 days in bed. Surgery, when appropriate, can lessen the pain, increase productivity and reduce number of missed workdays. This study strengthened the body of research that indicates surgery to repair herniated discs can be effective and cost-effective for patients."

To conduct the study, researchers reviewed literature and used patient reported outcomes from prior studies. The collected data were applied to a Markov Decision Model where they estimated direct and indirect costs associated with surgical and continued non-operative treatment for a herniated disc by comparing costs for household income and missed workdays and disability payments.

The full study is available at

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) commissioned KNG Health Consulting, LLC (KNG Health) and its partner, IHS Global Inc., to prepare this study.

More information about the AAOS
With more than 37,000 members, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, ( or ( is the premier not-for-profit organization that provides education programs for orthopaedic surgeons and allied health professionals, champions the interests of patients and advances the highest quality of musculoskeletal health. Orthopaedic surgeons and the Academy are the authoritative sources of information for patients and the general public on musculoskeletal conditions, treatments and related issues. An advocate for improved care, the Academy is participating in the Bone and Joint Initiative (, the global initiative to raise awareness of musculoskeletal health, stimulate research and improve people's quality of life.

When orthopaedic surgeons restore mobility and reduce pain, they help people get back to work and to independent, productive lives. To learn more, to read hundreds of patient stories or to submit your own story, visit

Like AAOS on Facebook (, and follow us on Twitter (

SOURCE American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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