In a perfect world, all spine surgeries would be complication-free. However, this isn’t always the case, but you can take comfort in knowing that while there are certain points during the recovery period when complication risks are higher, such occurrences are rare. If spine surgery is in your immediate future, it can be helpful to have a better idea of when surgical complications are more likely to occur so proper precautions can be taken and potential issues can be addressed.
First Week: Medication Adjustments and Infection Risks
Because every patient has a different tolerance for pain, a common reason for a return visit to a spine clinic or doctor’s office following spine surgery is to have medication adjusted. Another possible first week issue is signs of an infection around the wound site. Treatment usually involves antibiotics or other types of medication. Look out for the following signs of post-surgery wound infection:
• Excessive pus drainage
• Redness or swelling around the wound site
• Increased pain around the wound location
Second/Third Week: Cerebrospinal Fluid Leaks
With certain types of spine surgery, the spinal canal needs to be accessed. If the wound doesn’t heal properly or fully close, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) may leak. If this clear, colorless fluid that protects the brain and spinal cord continues to leak into the second or third week following spine surgery, symptoms experienced may include:
• Headaches that go away when lying down
• Neck pain or stiffness
• Nausea and vomiting
• A sense of imbalance
Treatment for a CSF leak may include surgery to close the source of the leak. Minor leaks may heal with short-term bed rest, increased hydration, and other non-surgical remedies.
Third/Fourth Week: Infections within the Surgical Site
By the time you get about a month past spine surgery, you’re not likely to see wound site infections. However, if bacteria got into the surgical site while the wound was still healing, the result could be an internal surgical site infection. Sudden pain spikes, especially around the surgery area, and an unexplained fever are among the signs associated with a possible surgical site infection. The risk of infections of this nature can be reduced by:
• Avoiding activities or actions that increase bacteria exposure (e.g. participating in outdoor activities that involve contact with dirt and other contaminants or not thoroughly rinsing off bath or shower sponges)
• Being cautious when returning to activities that may reopen the wound
• Paying attention to bathing and showering guidelines
A Month or More Post-Surgery: Signs of Surgical Failure
At this point, you’re not likely to develop an infection. The most common complication experienced a month or so after spine surgery is surgical failure. Also referred to as failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS), this particular complication may be related to:
• Hardware that has failed to stabilize the spine
• Fusion material that isn’t properly forming into bone
• Hardware or related equipment that has moved out of place
• An undiagnosed secondary issue that’s also affecting the spine
Experiencing failed back surgery doesn’t always mean a second procedure will be necessary. In some instances, it may be possible to ease symptoms with non-surgical treatments not previously explored prior to surgery.
Simply experiencing some degree of pain within the first few weeks of spine surgery doesn’t necessarily mean there are complications, especially if an uptick in minor discomfort is linked to your initial attempts at physical therapy. When pre-surgery symptoms return or post-surgery discomfort lingers or is accompanied by symptoms suggesting a wound-site or internal infection, it’s time to check with your Los Angeles spine surgeon.
If you had spinal fusion surgery, Los Angeles surgeons recommend taking proper precautions to avoid complications. However, if you still feel chronic pain or are experiencing any post-surgical complications, get in touch with Dr. Hyun Bae at The Spine Institute. Dr. Bae has years of experience in a wide array of surgical procedures and can offer suggestions to recover successfully following the surgery. To talk to one of our friendly representatives and schedule an in-person evaluation, give us a call at 310-828-7757.