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Int Orthop. 2012 Feb;36(2):439-44. doi: 10.1007/s00264-011-1427-z. Epub 2011 Dec 10.

Postoperative infections of the lumbar spine: presentation and management.

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Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Spine and Scoliosis Service, Hospital for Special Surgery/Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York, NY, USA.



Postoperative surgical site infections (SSI) are a frequent complication following posterior lumbar spinal surgery. In this manuscript we review strategies for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of SSI.


The literature was reviewed using the Pubmed database.


We identified fifty-nine relevant manuscripts almost exclusively composed of Level III and IV studies.


Risk factors for SSI include: 1) factors related to the nature of the spinal pathology and the surgical procedure and 2) factors related to the systemic health of the patient. Staphylococcus aureus is the most common infectious organism in reported series. Proven methods to prevent SSI include prophylactic antibiotics, meticulous adherence to aseptic technique and frequent release of retractors to prevent myonecrosis. The presentation of SSI is varied depending on the virulence of the infectious organism. Frequently, increasing pain is the only presenting complaint and can lead to a delay in diagnosis. Magnetic resonance imaging and the use of C-reactive protein laboratory studies are useful to establish the diagnosis. Treatment of SSI is centered on surgical debridement of all necrotic tissue and obtaining intra-operative cultures to guide antibiotic therapy. We recommend the involvement of an infectious disease specialist and use of minimum serial bactericidal titers to monitor the efficacy of antibiotic treatment. In the most cases, SSI can be adequately treated while leaving spinal instrumentation in place. For severe SSI, repeat debridement, delayed closure and involvement of a plastic surgeon may be necessary.

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