The relation between expectations and outcomes in surgery for sciatica

Gabriele K. Lutz, Martin E. Butzlaff, Steven J. Atlas, Robert B. Keller, Daniel E. Singer, Richard A. Deyo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: To describe the expectations that patients and their physicians have for outcomes after surgical treatment for sciatica and to examine the associations between expectations and outcomes. DESIGN: Prospective cohort study. SETTING/PATIENTS: We recruited 273 patients, from the offices of orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, and occupational medicine physicians in Maine, who had diskectomy for sciatica. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Patients' and physicians' expectations were measured before surgery. Satisfaction with care and changes in symptoms and functional status were measured 12 months after surgery. More patients who expected a shorter recovery time after surgery were 'delighted,' 'pleased,' or 'mostly satisfied' with their outcomes 12 months after surgery than patients who expected a longer recovery time (odds ratio [OR] 2.2; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.1, 4.4). Also, more patients who preferred surgery after learning that sciatica could get better without surgery had good symptom scores 12 months after surgery than patients who did not prefer surgery (OR 2.9; 95% CI 1.2, 7.0). When physicians predicted a 'great deal of improvement' after surgery, 39% of patients were not satisfied with their outcomes and 25% said their symptoms had not improved. CONCLUSIONS: More patients with favorable expectations about surgery had good outcomes than patients with unfavorable expectations. Physicians' expectations were overly optimistic. Patient expectations appear to be important predictors of outcomes, and eliciting them may help physicians identify patients more likely to benefit from diskectomy for sciatica.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)740-744
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Diskectomy
  • Patient expectations
  • Physician expectations
  • Sciatica

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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