Visceral and vascular complications resulting from anterior lumbar interbody fusion

J Neurosurg. 1999 Jul;91(1 Suppl):60-4. doi: 10.3171/spi.1999.91.1.0060.


Object: The literature on abdominal and general surgery-related complications following anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) is scant. In this retrospective review of 60 patients in whom ALIF was performed at their institutions between 1996 and 1998, the authors detail the associated complications and their correlation with perioperative factors. The causes, strategies for their avoidance, and the clinical course of these complications are also discussed.

Methods: The study group was composed of 31 men and 29 women whose mean age was 42 years (range 29-71 years). The preoperative diagnosis was discogenic back pain in 33 patients (55%); failed back syndrome in 11 (18.3%); pseudarthrosis in five (8.3%); postlaminectomy syndrome in four (6.6%); spondylolisthesis in three (5%); burst fracture in two (3.3%); and malignancy in two (3.3%). A retroperitoneal approach to the spine was used in 57 of the 60 patients. One interspace was exposed in 28 patients (46.6%), two in 28 (46.6%), and three in four (6.6%). Discectomy and interbody fusion in which the authors placed titanium cages or bone dowels was performed in 56 patients and corpectomy with instrumentation in four. Seven (11.6%) of 60 patients had undergone previous abdominal surgery and 29 (48.3%) had undergone previous spinal surgery. The follow-up period averaged 12+/-4 months (mean+/-standard deviation). Twenty-four general surgery-related complications occurred in 23 patients (38.3%), including sympathetic dysfunction in six; vascular injury in four; somatic neural injury in three; sexual dysfunction in three; prolonged ileus in three; wound incompetence in two; and deep venous thrombosis, acute pancreatitis, and bowel injury in one patient each. There were no deaths. The incidence of complications was not associated with underlying diagnosis (p>0.1), age (p>0.5), previous abdominal or spinal surgery (p>0.1), or the number of levels exposed (p>0.1).

Conclusions: This report provides a detailed analysis of the general surgery-related complications following ALIF. Although many of these complications have been recognized in the literature, the significance of sympathetic dysfunction appears to have been underestimated. The high incidence of complications in this series likely reflects the strict criteria. Many of these complications were minor and resolved over time without long-term sequelae.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Back Pain / surgery
  • Blood Vessels / injuries
  • Diskectomy / adverse effects
  • Diskectomy / methods
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / surgery
  • Intraoperative Complications* / physiopathology
  • Intraoperative Complications* / prevention & control
  • Laminectomy / adverse effects
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orthopedic Fixation Devices
  • Peripheral Nerve Injuries
  • Postoperative Complications* / physiopathology
  • Postoperative Complications* / prevention & control
  • Pseudarthrosis / surgery
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / etiology
  • Spinal Fractures / surgery
  • Spinal Fusion / adverse effects*
  • Spinal Fusion / methods
  • Spinal Neoplasms / surgery
  • Spondylolisthesis / surgery
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Syndrome
  • Titanium


  • Titanium