Abstract: The principle etiology of leg pain (sciatica) from lumbar disc herniation is mechanical compression of the nerve root. Sciatica is reduced by decompression of the herniated disc, i.e., removing mechanical compression of the nerve root. Decompression surgery typically reduces sciatica more than lumbar back pain (LBP). Decompression surgery reduces mechanical compression of the nerve root. However, decompression surgery does not directly reduce sensitization of the sensory nerves in the epidural space and disc. In addition, sensory nerves in the annulus fibrosus and epidural space are not protected from topical interaction with pain mediators induced by decompression surgery. The secondary etiology of sciatica from lumbar disc herniation is sensitization of the nerve root. Sensitization of the nerve root results from a) mechanical compression, b) exposure to cellular pain mediators, and/or c) exposure to biochemical pain mediators. Although decompression surgery reduces nerve root compression, sensory nerve sensitization often persists. These observations are consistent with continued exposure of tissue in the epidural space, including the nerve root, to increased cellular and biochemical pain mediators following surgery. A potential contributor to lumbar back pain (LBP) is stimulation of sensory nerves in the annulus fibrosus by a) cellular pain mediators and/or b) biochemical pain mediators that accompany annular tears or disruption. Sensory fibers located in the outer one-third of the annulus fibrosus increase in number and depth as a result of disc herniation. The nucleus pulposus is comprised of material that can produce an autoimmune stimulation of the sensory nerves located in the annulus and epidural space leading to LBP. The sensory nerves of the annulus fibrosus and epidural space may be sensitized by topical exposure to cellular and biochemical pain mediators induced by lumbar surgery. Annulotomy or annular rupture allows the nucleus pulposus topical access to sensory nerve fibers, thereby leading to LBP. Coverage of the annulus and adjacent structures in the epidural space by absorbable viscoelastic gels appears to reduce LBP following surgery by protecting sensory fibers from cellular and biochemical pain mediators.
Keywords: biomaterial; viscoelastic gel; back pain; sciatica; lumbar surgery; fibrosis; cytokines; disc herniation; oxiplex; healon