What are the complications of thoracic spine surgery?

Answered by Tom Adger

Complications of thoracic spine surgery can vary depending on the specific procedure performed, the patient’s underlying health conditions, and the skill and experience of the surgical team. However, some common complications that can occur during or after thoracic spine surgery include:

1. Spinal cord injury: One of the most serious complications of thoracic spine surgery is spinal cord injury. This can result from direct trauma to the spinal cord during the surgery or from inadequate blood supply to the cord, leading to neurological deficits.

2. Nerve-root injury: Damage to the nerve roots that emerge from the thoracic spine can occur during surgery, leading to pain, weakness, or sensory changes in the affected area. This can result from direct trauma, excessive traction, or compression of the nerves.

3. Dural injury: The dura is a protective membrane that covers the spinal cord and nerve roots. In some cases, the dura can be inadvertently torn or punctured during surgery, leading to CSF leakage and increasing the risk of infection.

4. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leakage: CSF leakage can occur if there is a breach in the dura during surgery. This can lead to headaches, infection, and delayed wound healing. In some cases, surgical repair may be required to address the leakage.

5. Fat liquefaction: Fat liquefaction refers to the breakdown of fatty tissue in the surgical area. This can result in the formation of a cyst or mass, which may require further intervention.

6. Pulmonary injury: Thoracic spine surgery involves operating in close proximity to the lungs. In rare cases, injury to the lungs or pleura (lining of the lungs) can occur, leading to complications such as pneumothorax (collapsed lung) or pleural effusion (accumulation of fluid in the chest cavity).

7. Hematoma: A hematoma is a collection of blood that can accumulate in the surgical area. This can cause compression of nearby structures and may require drainage or surgical intervention.

8. Infection: Infection can occur in the surgical wound or in the lungs (pneumonia) following thoracic spine surgery. This can lead to increased pain, delayed wound healing, and systemic symptoms such as fever and malaise.

9. Intestinal obstruction: In some cases, thoracic spine surgery can result in the development of adhesions or scar tissue that can cause intestinal obstruction. This can lead to symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation.

It is important to note that while these complications can occur, they are relatively rare and often preventable with careful surgical technique, appropriate patient selection, and postoperative care. It is essential for patients to discuss the potential risks and benefits of surgery with their surgeon before proceeding, and to follow all postoperative instructions for optimal recovery.