With any surgery, there is the risk of complications. When surgery is done near the spine and spinal cord, these complications (if they occur) can be very serious. Complications could involve subsequent pain and impairment and the need for additional surgery. The list of complications provided here is not intended to be a complete list of complications and is not a substitute for discussing the risks of surgery with your doctor. Only your doctor can properly evaluate your specific situation and advise you on other conditions that may impact your recovery.
Most spinal operations require general anesthesia. A very small number of patients may have problems with general anesthesia. These can be problems due to reactions to the drugs used, problems arising from your other medical problems, and problems due to the specific brand of anesthesia itself.
When blood clots form inside the veins of the legs, it is referred to as Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT). This is a common problem following many types of surgical procedures. The risk of developing DVT is much higher following surgery involving the pelvis, and surgery involving areas below the waist. Here are a few simple reasons the risk of DVT is higher after surgery. First, the body is trying to stop the bleeding associated with surgery, and the body’s clotting mechanism is very hyperactive during this period. In addition, injury to blood vessels around the surgical site, from normal tugging and pulling during surgery, can set off the clotting process. Finally, blood that does not move well sits in the veins and becomes stagnant. Blood that sits too long in one spot usually begins to clot. This cuts off the blood supply to the portion of the lung that is blocked. The portion of the lung that is blocked cannot survive and may collapse. This is called a pulmonary embolism. If a pulmonary embolism is large enough, and the portion of the lung that collapses is large enough – it may cause death. With this in mind, it is easy to see why the prevention of DVT is a serious matter.
Blood that is moving is less likely to clot. Getting you up and walking soon after the procedure is helpful in lowering this risk. Simply pumping your feet up and down (like pushing on the gas pedal) contracts the muscles of the calf, squeezes the veins in the calf, and pushes the blood back to the heart.
Drugs, which slow down the body’s clotting mechanism, are widely used following surgery of the hip and knee to reduce the risk of DVT. These drugs include simple aspirin in very low-risk situations, and heparin shots twice a day in moderately risky situations.
The success of your surgery includes taking care of your lungs afterward. It is important that your lungs are working at their best following surgery to ensure that you get plenty of oxygen to the tissues of the body that are trying to heal. Lungs that are not exercised properly after surgery can lead to poor blood oxygen levels and even develop pneumonia (an infection in the lungs).
After surgery, you will need to do several things to keep your lungs working at their best. Your nurse will encourage you to take frequent deep breaths and cough often. Alert the physician if you have allergies or asthma. This may increase the chances you will need pulmonary therapy ordered after your surgery.
Any time surgery is performed, there is a risk of infection. However, infections occur in less than 1% of spinal surgeries. If the surgical wound becomes red, hot, and swollen and does not heal, it may be infected. Infections will usually cause increasing pain. You may run a fever and have shaking chills. The wound may ooze clear liquid or yellow pus. The wound drainage may smell bad.
Contact your doctor immediately so the wound can be treated and antibiotic medication can be prescribed if necessary. The superficial wound infection can usually be treated with antibiotics, and perhaps removing the skin stitches. The deeper wound infections can be very serious and will probably require additional operations to drain the infection. In the worst cases, any bone graft, metal screws, and plates that were used may need to be removed.
In many different types of spinal operations, metal screws, plates, and rods are used as part of the procedure to hold the vertebrae in alignment while the surgery heals. These metal devices are called “hardware”. Once the bone heals, the hardware is usually not doing much of anything. Sometimes before the surgery is completely healed the hardware can either break – or move from the correct position. This is called a “hardware fracture”. If this occurs it may require a second operation to either remove the hardware or replace the hardware. Implant migration is a term used to describe the fact that the implant has moved from where the surgeon placed it initially. This usually occurs fairly soon after surgery – before the healing process has progressed to the point where the implant is firmly attached by scar tissue or bone growth. If you have a problem with implant migration, your surgeon may have to perform a second operation to replace the implant that has moved. Your doctor will check the status of the hardware with X-rays taken during your follow-up office visits.
Any time you operate on the spine, there is some risk of injuring the spinal cord. This can lead to serious injuries to the nerves or the covering of the spinal cord – the dura. Damage to the spinal cord can cause paralysis in certain areas and not others, depending on which spinal nerves are affected.
Some spinal operations are simply unsuccessful. One of the most common complications of spinal surgery is that it does not get rid of all of your pain. In some cases, it may be possible to actually increase your pain. Be aware of this risk before surgery and discuss it at length with your surgeon. He or she will be able to give you some idea of the chance that you will not get the relief that you expect.
Some pain after surgery is expected, but if you experience chronic pain well after the operation, you should let your doctor know. A medical malpractice attorney Chicago IL residents trust may be able to step in if the issues are severe.
The spinal cord and spinal nerves carry the nerve signals that allow the rest of your body to function, feel sensations related to urination, elimination, and sexual function. If you suffer from any of these serious side effects from spinal surgery is reduced function and quality of life.
If one or more levels are fused anywhere in the spine, the spinal segment next to where the surgery was performed can malfunction or cause extreme pain. This is called a transitional syndrome because it occurs where the transition from a normal area of the spine to the abnormal area that has been fused.
Thanks to our friends and contributors at the Law Offices of Konrad Sherinian for their insight into personal injury and medical malpractice.