Article Abstract

Bowel injury in lumbar spine surgery: a review of the literature

Authors: Ioannis Siasios, Kunal Vakharia, Asham Khan, Joshua E. Meyers, Samantha Yavorek, John Pollina, Vassilios Dimopoulos


Although rarely documented in the medical literature, bowel perforation injury can be a severe complication of spine surgery. Our goal was to review current literature regarding this complication and study possible methods of avoidance. We conducted a literature search in the PubMed database between January 1960 and March 2016 using the terms abrasion, bowels, bowel, complication, injury, intestine, intra-abdominal sepsis/shock, perforation, lumbar, spine, surgery, visceral. Diagnostic criteria, outcomes, risk factors, surgical approach, and treatment strategy were the parameters extracted from the search results and used for review. Thirty-one patients with bowel injury were recognized in the literature. Bowel injury was more frequent in patients who underwent lumbar discectomy and microdiscectomy (18 of 31 patients, 58.1%). Minimally invasive surgery and lateral techniques involving fusions accounted for 10 of the reported cases (32.3%). Finally, 2 cases (6.5%) were reported in conjunction with sacrectomies and 1 case (3.2%) with posterior fusion plus anterior longitudinal ligament (ALL) release. Diagnosis was made mostly by clinical signs/symptoms of acute abdominal pain, post-surgical wound infection, and abscess or enterocutaneous fistulas. Significant risk factors for postoperative bowel injury were complex surgical anatomy, medical history of previous abdominal surgeries or infections, irradiation before surgery, errors related to surgical technique, lack of surgical experience, and instrumentation failure. The overall mortality rate from bowel injury was 12.9% (4 of 31 patients). The overall morbidity rate was 87.1% (27 of 31 patients). According to our review of the literature, bowel injury is linked to significant morbidity and mortality. It can be prevented with meticulous pre-surgical planning. When it occurs, timely treatment reduces the risks of morbidity and mortality.