Lumbar Spine Surgery and What We Lost in the Era of the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Survey of the Lumbar Spine Research Society

Paul M. Arnold, Linda Owens, Robert F. Heary, Andrew G. Webb, Mark D. Whiting, Alexander R. Vaccaro, Ravishankar K. Iyer, James S. Harrop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Study Design: This was a survey of the surgeon members of the Lumbar Spine Research Society (LSRS). Objective: The purpose of this study was to assess trends in surgical practice and patient management involving elective and emergency surgery in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. Summary of Background Data: The novel coronavirus has radically disrupted medical care in the first half of 2020. Little data exists regarding the exact nature of its effect on spine care. Methods: A 53-question survey was sent to the surgeon members of the LSRS. Respondents were contacted via email 3 times over a 2-week period in late April. Questions concentrated on surgical and clinical practice patterns before and after the pandemic. Other data included elective surgical schedules and volumes, as well as which emergency cases were being performed. Surgeons were asked about the status of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) virus testing. Circumstances for performing surgical intervention on patients with and without testing as well as patients testing positive were explored. Results: A total of 43 completed surveys were returned of 174 sent to active surgeons in the LSRS (25%). Elective lumbar spine procedures decreased by 90% in the first 2 months of the pandemic, but emergency procedures did not change. Patients with "stable" lumbar disease had surgeries deferred indefinitely, even beyond 8 weeks if necessary. In-person outpatient visits became increasingly rare events, as telemedicine consultations accounted for 67% of all outpatient spine appointments. In total, 91% surgeons were under some type of confinement. Only 11% of surgeons tested for the coronavirus on all surgical patients. Conclusions: Elective lumbar surgery was significantly decreased in the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, and much of outpatient spine surgery was practiced via telemedicine. Despite these constraints, spine surgeons performed emergency surgery when indicated, even when the COVID-19 status of patients was unknown. Level of Evidence: Level IV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E575-E579
JournalClinical spine surgery
Issue number10
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • COVID-19, pandemic
  • spine surgery
  • telemedicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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