Document Type


Publication Date

March 2006


This article has been peer-reviewed. It is the authors' final version prior to publication in Spine Journal 6(2):125-30, March, 2006. The published version is available at Copyright is retained by Elsevier, Inc.


Background Context: The SF-36 health survey has been shown to be a valid instrument when used to measure the self-reported physical and mental health of patients. The impact of lumbar spinal disorders can be assessed as the difference between the SF-36 scale scores and age-and-gender specific population norms.

Purpose: To establish the impact upon the self-reported health status of patients with one of four common lumbar spinal diagnoses.

Study Design: A cross-sectional, observational assessment of the health status of spine patients.

Methods: Data from patients presenting to the participating centers of the National Spine Network with low back pain and/or leg pain, was collected prospectively using the Health Status Questionnaire 2.0. A database search identified patients with either herniated nucleus pulposus with radicular pain (HNP), lumbar spinal stenosis without deformity (SPS), degenerative spondylolisthesis (DS), and painful disc degeneration/spondylosis (DDD). The mean SF-36 scale scores were generated for each of the diagnostic groups. The impact of these diagnoses on health status was determined as the calculated difference from the age-and-gender specific population norms for each of the eight health scale scores. These scores, usually negative in this population, represent how far below normal these patients are. The analysis was stratified according to the age of the patients (<40 yrs, 40-60 yrs, >60 yrs). Analysis of variance and pair-wise comparison with Bonferroni correction were used to assess the significance of differences across diagnosis and age groups.

Results: Data from a total of 4,442 patients was available for this study. All four diagnostic groups had large, negative impact scores for the eight general health scales with the greatest impact upon the three scales that best measure physical health. The greatest impact on these physical health scales (physical functioning, role-physical, and bodily pain) was seen in the HNP diagnostic group. The younger age groups (<40 yrs and 40-60 yrs) had the greatest physical impairment when compared to the age-and-gender specific population norms. Analysis of variance showed a significant relationship between diagnosis and SF-36 scores, and between age groups and SF-36 scores.

Conclusions: All four lumbar spine disorders have a significant negative impact on all eight of the SF-36 scales. The greatest negative impact was seen in those scales that measure physical health (RP, PF, and BP). The HNP diagnostic group experienced a significantly greater impact upon these three scales. This diagnostic group had the youngest patients, whose baseline physical functional status would be expected to be the most optimal. When we stratified by age in all the diagnostic groups, the greatest negative impact scores for physical health were seen in the < 40 yrs and 40-60 yrs age groups. These patients were also more likely to perceive their health as poor, experience decreased energy, and have more social impairment when compared to their age/gender norms.

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