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Spinal Surgery Complications Animation

Pseudoarthrosis, Post-operative Infections, and Other Possible Spine Surgery Complications

There is a lot to understand before you make the decision to have spinal surgery.  All medical procedures, not just surgery, involve risk and possibly complications.  That is why your primary care physician, surgeon, and other medical professionals involved in your surgery (eg, anesthesiologist) repeatedly review your history, allergies, lifestyle (eg, do you smoke?), and prescription and over-the-counter drugs you take, including vitamins and supplements.  Don’t be surprised if blood or other laboratory tests are repeated before and after surgery.  These are steps your healthcare providers take to lower your risk for complications during and after spinal surgery.

In this short animation, learn about possible complications from spine surgery. These can apply to minimally invasive spine surgery or traditional spine surgery (open spine surgery).

Spinal surgery complications may include, but are not limited to the following:

Anesthesia
General anesthesia is administered for spine surgery.  Anesthesia involves the administration of medications and inhalable gases to keep you free of pain during surgery. Complications of anesthesia can include heart attack, stroke, brain damage, and death.  Few patients experience a complication.

Be sure to tell your physician and anesthesiologist:

  • if you, or a family member, ever had a problem with anesthesia.
  • if you use tobacco or alcohol.

Post-operative Infection
Your surgeon and his team take many precautions to prevent infection, such as administering an intravenous antibiotic immediately before surgery.  Unfortunately, despite efforts, some patients develop an infection.  Symptoms of an infection may include:

  • the wound becomes red, hot, swollen
  • pain increases
  • fever, sometimes accompanied by chills
  • clear liquid or pus oozes from the incision
  • the wound smells foul.  

Thrombophlebitis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) causes thrombophlebitis.  DVT occurs when a blood clot (or clots) develops in one of the large veins of one or both legs.  Sometimes the blood clot extends into the veins of the thigh.

DVT may happen after surgery because the body’s clotting mechanism is working hard to stop bleeding at the surgical site.    

  • DVT causes thrombophlebitis, leg swelling, and pain. 
  • Sometimes the skin area over the vein is reddish, warm and/or tender.
  • Thrombophlebitis is dangerous because the clot can dislodge and travel to a lung, cutting off its blood supply.  This is called a pulmonary embolism, a potentially life-threatening problem.

 Spine Surgery Instrumentation Failure
Instrumentation refers to devices such as metal rods, plates, and screws.  Instrumentation is implanted to stabilize the spine while it heals (fuses).  If an implanted device becomes damaged or breaks, a second surgery may be necessary to remove and/or replace it.

Pseudoarthrosis: Failed Fusion
Pseudoarthrosis means a false joint, which describes what happens when fusion doesn’t heal.  In other words, two or more spinal bones (the vertebrae) do not heal or grow together as intended and the spine is not stable.  Tiny amounts of movement called micromotion occur and cause or increase pain after surgery.  A second surgery may be required.

Potential Neurological Complications in Spine Surgery Procedures
Spine surgery involves operating near the spinal cord and nerve structures.  There is a risk for nerve damage and/or spinal cord injury.

Persistent Pain
Although the goal of spine surgery may include reducing pain, sometimes surgery is not successful.  Pain may develop, persist, or increase.

Your spine surgeon can explain your risks for surgical complications whether you're having minimally invasive spine surgery or traditional spine surgery.  Your surgeon is your resource to learn about the risks and benefits of your spine surgery.  Many factors can affect your risk for a surgical complication, such as age, coexisting medical conditions, and smoking.  Knowing about your personal risk factors can help you make a well-informed decision about spinal surgery.

Updated on: 06/11/14
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