Lumbar disc herniation (LDH) results in low back pain due to nerve root compression caused by nucleus pulposus degeneration. Chemonucleolysis of the nucleus pulposus by injection of condoliase is less invasive than surgery, but may cause disc degeneration. The purpose of the study was to examine outcomes of condoliase injection in patients in their teens and twenties using Pfirrmann criteria on MRI.
A single-center retrospective study was performed in 26 consecutive patients (19 men, 7 women) who underwent condoliase injection (1 mL, 1.25 U/mL) for LDH and had MRI scans at 3 and 6 months. Cases with and without an increase in Pfirrmann grade at 3 months post-injection were included in groups D (disc degeneration, n = 16) and N (no degeneration, n = 10). Pain was measured on a visual analogue scale (VAS). MRI findings were evaluated using the % change in disc height index (ΔDHI).
The mean age of the patients was 21.1 ± 4.1 years and 12 were <20 years old. At baseline, 4, 21 and 1 were in Pfirrmann grades II, III and IV. In group D, no case had a further increase in Pfirrmann grade from 3 to 6 months. Pain significantly decreased in both groups. There were no adverse events. MRI showed a significant decrease in ΔDHI from 100% pre-injection to 89.4 ± 9.7% at 3 months in all cases (p < 0.05). There was a significant recovery in ΔDHI in group D from 3 to 6 months (85.4 ± 9.3% vs. 86.7 ± 9.1%, p < 0.05).
These results suggest that chemonucleolysis with condoliase is effective and safe for LDH in young patients. Progression of Pfirrmann criteria at 3 months post-injection occurred in 61.5% of cases, but disc degeneration showed recovery in these patients. A longer-term study of the clinical symptoms related to these changes is required.

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