Risks of spine surgery


All surgeries have a risk of complications. When deciding whether to have surgery, it's important to understand these risks and how they might affect you.

Proper care and planning before surgery may prevent these risks or make them less likely to occur. Long before your surgery, talk with your doctor about what you can do to prevent problems during and after surgery.

Risks of any surgery

Risks that can occur with any surgery are:

  • An allergic reaction to any of the medicines you are given. This is rare, but possible. Some of these reactions may be life threatening.
  • Blood loss.
  • Breathing problems. These are more common if you have general anesthesia and a breathing tube during surgery.
  • Heart attack or stroke, during or after surgery.
  • Infection, including in the lungs (pneumonia) and urinary tract.
  • Poor wound healing. This is more likely for people who are not healthy before surgery and for people who smoke, have diabetes, or take medicines that weaken their immune system.

Sitting or lying down for long periods of time during and after surgery will make your blood move more slowly through your body. This increases your risk of:

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) -- blood clots that may form in your leg veins after surgery.
  • Pulmonary embolism -- blood clots that can travel up to the lungs and cause serious breathing problems and possibly death.

Risks for spine surgery are:

  • Infection in the wound or in the vertebra.
  • Damage to a spinal nerve, causing weakness, pain, or loss of feeling in one of your legs.
  • Damage to a spinal nerve, causing problems controlling or emptying your bladder or bowels.
  • Problems in the areas of your spine above and below where your surgery takes place (if you have spinal fusion surgery). This can lead to other surgeries.
  • Spinal fluid leak, causing headaches and problems with wound healing.
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Review Date: 4/3/2018

Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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