Factors Associated with Progression to Surgical Intervention for Lumbar Disc Herniation in the Military Health System

Ashley B. Anderson, Matthew J. Braswell, Alfred J. Pisano, Nora I. Watson, Jonathan F. Dickens, Melvin D. Helgeson, Daniel I. Brooks, Scott C. Wagner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Study Design.Retrospective cohort.Objective.To determine surgery-free survival of patients receiving conservative management of lumbar disc herniation (LDH) in the military healthcare system (MHS) and risk factors for surgical intervention.Summary of Background Data.Radiculopathy from LDH is a major cause of morbidity and cost.Methods.The Military Data Repository was queried for all patients diagnosed with LDH from FY2011-2018; the earliest such diagnosis in a military treatment facility (MTF) was kept for each patient as the initial diagnosis. Follow-up time to surgical intervention was defined as the time from diagnosis to first encounter for lumbar microdiscectomy or lumbar decompression in either a MTF or in the civilian sector. The Military Data Repository was also queried for history of tobacco use at any time during MHS care, age at the time of diagnosis, sex, MHS beneficiary category, and diagnosing facility characteristics. Multivariable Cox proportional hazards models were used to evaluate the associations of patient and diagnosing facility characteristics with time to surgical intervention.Results.A total of 84,985 MHS beneficiaries including 62,771 active duty service members were diagnosed with LDH in a MTF during the 8-year study period. A total of 10,532 (12.4%) MHS beneficiaries, including 7650 (10.9%) active duty, failed conservative management onto surgical intervention with lumbar microdiscectomy or lumbar decompression. Median follow-up time of the cohort was 5.2 (interquartile range 2.6, 7.5) years. Among all healthcare beneficiaries, several patient-level (younger age, male sex, and history of tobacco use) and facility-level characteristics (hospital vs. clinic and surgical care vs. primary care clinic) were independently associated with higher risk of surgical intervention.Conclusion.LDH compromises military readiness and negatively impacts healthcare costs. MHS beneficiaries with LDH have a good prognosis with approximately 88% of patients successfully completing conservative management. However, strategies to improve outcomes of conservative management in LDH should address risks associated with both patient and facility characteristics.Level of Evidence: 4.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E392-E397
Issue number6
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • epidemiology
  • lumbar disc herniation
  • outcomes


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