The California Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (CWCI) released a report based on spinal fusion data from the state’s work related injury claims. Spinal fusions have been a topic of conversation as they are expensive and sometimes thought to be unnecessary surgeries. The report found that in 62 percent of spinal fusion claims, the initial report of injury that ultimately led to the procedure was for a sprain or strain. More than a fifth of claims involved at least one additional spinal fusion surgery.
CWCI looked at 18,266 workers’ compensation claims in California from 2000 to 2014 that involved at least one spinal fusion procedure. They organized the data based on patient demographics and whether or not they had comorbidities, average cost in terms of indemnity and medical benefits, claim characteristics such as cause and nature of injury, where the spine was actually fused and how many segments of the spine were involved, whether or not there were additional surgeries and when they occurred, levels of opioid use both before and after surgery and other identifying features.
Researchers found that 62 percent of claims involving spinal fusions were initially reported as strains and sprains. Behind that, cumulative trauma and mental stress claims accounted for 14% of claims involving the procedure. Mental health disorders were the leading comorbidity that was found in 37 percent of fusion cases. Men made up 64 percent of spinal fusion patients and costs for males were higher across the board (15.5 percent higher for temporary disability, 27.1 percent higher for permanent disability and 16 percent higher for medical). Lumbar fusions made up half of all the procedures, and cases that involved other sections of the vertebrae made up a third of all procedures.