A recent study published in The Spine Journal (Lee MJ, MD et al. Risk factors for medical complication after spine surgery: a multivariate analysis of 1,591 patients. The Spine Journal; 2012; 12: 197–206.) discussed the complications of surgeries to the neck, mid-back, and low back. The types and frequency of serious complications from these surgeries were startling. But in my own mind, it reinforced the idea that surgical interventions for back and neck problems should be the last option of all viable treatments due solely to the risks associated with these surgeries.
The study analyzed 1,591 patients who underwent spinal surgery at the University of Washington between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2004. They found that 52.58% of the patients had some form of complication following their surgery. The complications included cardiac, pulmonary, gastrointestinal, neurological, hematological and urological problems. The study even found that the occurrence of cardiac or respiratory complications after spine surgery was significantly associated with death within 2 years of the surgery.
This chilling review of the complications from spinal surgery demonstrates that there are many and frequent serious risks to these invasive procedures. These invasive surgeries, while being effective in appropriate patients, are neither simple nor benign and are associated with significant morbidity or even mortality. The statistic that almost 53% of the patients had some complication is worth thinking about if you are considering any kind of spinal surgery. It is also worth noting that the University of Washington’s Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, where the study’s patients were analyzed, is regarded as an excellent institution. It is fair to assume that complications from surgeries performed at less esteemed hospitals may be significantly worse.
So if you are experiencing spinal problems, you may want to consider other forms of treatment before agreeing to spinal surgery.