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Risk of Infection Following a Spine Surgery

About.com—October 1, 2012

Are you planning to have neck or back surgery in the near future? If so, you've likely already started preparing for the event and its outcomes. Along with the logistics of undergoing the procedure itself, there are other factors to consider, including: healing time, the need to adjust to a less active lifestyle (at least for a while), any rehab or physical therapy your doctor may prescribe, and much more.

Post-operative infections can be very serious, so surgeons tend to be vigilant about monitoring their patients after a procedure. Should an infection occur, treatment is often aggressive. “Spine infections are potentially serious and should be respected as such,” says Dr. Andrew Sama, orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, adding that “a high index of suspicion and aggressive management are key to a successful outcome.”

What Causes Post Operative Spinal Infection?

Some of the responsibility for preventing a post-surgical spinal infection is yours, while some falls on your doctor and the hospital. In a review, published in the April 2010 issue of Spine Journal, researchers concluded that the risk of infection is “multi-factorial” and due to “complex interplay of patient and procedural influences.”

Patient-Related Risk Factors for Infection Following Spinal Surgery

Certain diseases and conditions predispose you to a higher risk for wound infection following back surgery. Some conditions, like obesity and smoking, are related to your lifestyle, while others are medical conditions that your doctor will diagnose.

According to Dr. Sama, osteoporosis can increase your risk.


Smoking decreases the blood supply to your tissues, which can increase spinal degeneration, as well as pain, says Dr. Jennifer Solomon, a physiatrist, also from Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

“Smokers should stop smoking before and after spine surgery to optimize outcomes,” Sama advises.

Procedural Related Risk Factors for Spinal Surgery

Complex spine surgery, especially when the operation lasts a long time and/or hardware is placed in your spine, raises your risk for infection. Surgery to correct scoliosis is one example of such a surgery.

“Spine surgeries with long operating times and large amounts of blood loss are risk factors for wound infection,” Sama informs me.

“Revision surgery requiring the use of hardware in diabetic and/or obese patients, or in patients with prior history of infections, is very high-risk,” Sama comments.


Read the full story at about.com.

Learn more about preventing infections.


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