Background: Lumbar disc herniation is often associated with an inflammatory process. In this context, inflammation has been considered a key factor in the modulation of pain. Here, we present a case of inflammatory activity directly documented in a patient with a lumbar disc herniation.
Case Description: A 49-year-old male presented with progressive low back pain and left-sided S1 radiculopathy, without a focal neurological deficit. The lumbar MR revealed a prominent herniated disc at the L5-S1 level, with compression of the left S1 root. The patient underwent a L5-S1 discectomy using a standard interlaminar approach. Although initially he was pain free, he required three additional operations to address recurrent pain complaints. As research indicates that local inflammation contributes to neuropathic pain, we had the patient undergoes single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging using technetium-99m-labeled-infliximab (an anti-tumor necrosis factor [TNF]-alpha monoclonal antibody) before a proposed fourth operation. The SPECT study documented a strong signal at the site of the herniated disc, thus confirming the diagnosis of a pro-inflammatory process involving the S1 nerve root. Nine months after the fourth operation, the patient was pain free. Of interest, the second SPECT study in the now asymptomatic patient demonstrated no detectable/ residual signal at the operative/disc site.
Conclusion: Absence of a SPECT TNF-alpha signal in a pain-free patient following a lumbar discectomy correlates with the reduction/resolution of the local preoperative inflammatory response.