Somatosensory profiling in affected and non-affected body regions can strengthen our insight regarding the underlying pain mechanisms, which can be valuable in treatment decision making and to improve outcomes, in patients with degenerative lumbar spine disorders pre-surgery. The aim was to describe somatosensory profiles in patients with degenerative lumbar spine disorders, to identify the proportion with altered somatosensory profile, and to analyze demographic characteristics, self-reported function, pain, and health pre- and 3 months post-surgery.
In this prospective cohort study in a Spine Clinic, 105 patients scheduled for surgery for spinal stenosis, disc herniation, degenerative disc disease, or spondylolisthesis were consecutively recruited. Exclusion criteria were; indication for acute surgery or previous surgery at the same spinal level or severe grade of pathology. Quantitative sensory testing (QST) and self-reported function, pain, and health was measured pre- and 3 months post-surgery. The somatosensory profile included cold detection threshold, warmth detection threshold, cold pain threshold, heat pain threshold and pressure pain threshold in affected and non-affected body regions.
On a group level, the patients' somatosensory profiles were within the 95% confidence interval (CI) from normative reference data means. On an individual level, an altered somatosensory profile was defined as having two or more body regions (including a non-affected region) with QST values outside of normal ranges for reference data. The 23 patients (22%) with altered somatosensory profiles, with mostly loss of function, were older (P = 0.031), more often female (P = 0.005), had higher back and leg pain (P = 0.016, 0.020), lower mental health component summary score (SF-36 MCS) (P = 0.004) and larger pain distribution (P = 0.047), compared to others in the cohort. Post-surgery there was a tendency to worse pain, function and health in the group with altered somatosensory profile pre-surgery.
On a group level, patients with degenerative lumbar spine disorders scheduled for surgery were within normal range for the QST measurements compared to reference values. On an individual level, an altered somatosensory profile outside of normal range in both affected and non-affected body regions occurred in 22% of patients, which may indicate disturbed somatosensory function. Those patients had mostly loss of sensory function and had worse self-reported outcome pre-surgery, compared to the rest of the cohort. Future prospective studies are needed to further examine whether these dimensions can be useful in predicting post-surgery outcome and guide need of additional treatments.