We have studied, prospectively, 116 patients with motor deficits associated with herniation of a lumbar disc who underwent microdiscectomy. They were studied during the first six months and at a mean of 6.4 years after surgery. Before operation, muscle weakness was mild (grade 4) in 67% of patients, severe (grade 3) in 21% and very severe (grade 2 or 1) in 12%. The muscle which most frequently had severe or very severe weakness was extensor hallucis longus, followed in order by triceps surae, extensor digitorum communis, tibialis anterior, and others.
At the latest follow-up examination, 76% of patients had complete recovery of strength. Persistent weakness was found in 16% of patients who had had a mild preoperative deficit and in 39% of those with severe or very severe weakness. Muscle strength was graded 4 in all patients with persistent weakness, except for four with a very severe preoperative deficit affecting the L5 or S1 nerve root. They showed no significant recovery. Excluding this last group, the degree of recovery of motor function was inversely related to the preoperative severity and duration of muscle weakness. The patients’ subjective functional capacity was not directly related to the degree of recovery except in those with persistent severe or very severe deficit.