Outcomes with transforaminal endoscopic versus percutaneous laser decompression for contained lumbar herniated disc: a survival analysis of treatment benefit

Kai-Uwe Lewandrowski, Paulo Sérgio Teixeira de Carvalho, André Luiz Calderaro, Thiago Soares dos Santos, Marlon Sudário de Lima e Silva, Paulo de Carvalho Jr, Anthony Yeung


Background: Contained lumbar disc herniations frequently cause back- and leg pain. Clinical outcomes with surgical treatment may be affected by the size and location of the disc herniation. The surgical directly visualized transforaminal endoscopic decompression has gained acceptance and popularity, while the simplified percutaneous laser disc decompression has fallen out of favor in spite of its initial success as a minimally invasive intervention. In an attempt to better understand the durability of both procedures, the authors performed a comparative analysis of clinical outcomes in patients with contained lumbar disc herniations.
Methods: The study population was comprised 248 patients consisting of 162 patients in the endoscopy group (group 1) and 86 patients in the laser group (group 2). Primary outcome measures were Macnab criteria. Herniations were classified as large or small. Additional parameters of advanced degeneration of the lumbar motion segment including posterior disc- and lateral recess height of <3 mm were recorded. IBM SPSS 25.0 was used for Kaplan-Meier survival analysis and cross-tabulation of these variables with statistical testing for significant associations.
Results: The mean follow-up was 43.5 months. The serial time recorded for Kaplan-Meier analysis ranged from 1.5 to 84 months. The mean age was 53.37 years (standard deviation =14.65 years). The majority of patients had Excellent and Good Macnab outcomes (212/248; 85.5%) regardless of treatment. Fair and Poor results were achieved in another 36 patients (14.5%). There was a higher percentage of Excellent Macnab outcomes in the endoscopy group (94/162; 58.0%) than in the laser group (38/86; 44.2%) at a statistical significant level (P<0.0001). There was a statistically significantly higher percentage of Excellent and Good Macnab outcomes with endoscopic decompression of small paracentral herniations (97.1%; P<0.0001). Percutaneous laser decompression of large central disc herniations was not statistically better than endoscopic surgical decompression (P=0.125). Endoscopic bony and soft tissue decompression was also better than laser at alleviating symptoms in patients with reduced posterior disc- and lateral recess height with 96.7% in patients with reduced disc height of <3 mm and 94% in patients with reduced lateral recess height of <3 mm (P=0.001). Kaplan-Meier (K-M) Survival time showed longer median survival of the treatment benefit for patients who underwent visualized endoscopic surgical decompression (66.0 months) compared to median K-M survival time for percutaneous laser decompression of 17 months (P<0.0001).
Conclusions: Transforaminal endoscopic decompression for symptomatic herniated disc is an effective and durable surgical treatment to alleviate sciatica-type and back symptoms in the vast majority of patients with good long-term survival of pain relief for up to six years. Interventional percutaneous non-visualized laser decompression for the same condition may provide favorable outcomes in the short-term with soft protrusions. However, the treatment effect deteriorates much faster with a median survival of 17 months.