Surgical results and complications in elderly patients with benign lesions of the spinal canal

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1992 Sep;40(9):867-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.1992.tb01981.x.


Objective: To describe the long-term outcome and complications of spinal surgery in a population of elderly patients.

Design: Retrospective chart review and clinical follow-up.

Setting: A 700-bed tertiary care midwestern hospital.

Patients: Patients 70 years of age or older who underwent elective surgical procedures for the treatment of benign lesions of the spinal canal.

Main outcome measures: Data obtained from chart review included age, sex, nature and duration of neurological symptoms, activities of daily living (ADL), associated illnesses, length of hospitalization, type of surgery, and complications attributable to surgery. Outcome measurements included changes in neurological symptoms and ADL and a standardized scale obtained from consecutive outpatient visits, telephone interviews, or written responses.

Results: Seventy-eight patients with lumbar canal stenosis or soft disc herniations underwent laminectomies, foraminotomies or discectomies. Eleven patients underwent cervical laminectomies for multilevel spondylitic myelopathy. Limb and spine pain were the most common neurological symptoms in patients with lumbar lesions; diminished ADLs were present in eight patients with cervical myelopathies. Six patients died of unrelated causes, and 78 were followed for an average of 27.1 months. Twenty-three (85.2%) of 27 patients with lumbar disc herniations reported improvements or resolution of limb pain while 35 (81.4%) of 43 patients with lumbar canal stenosis reported fair or good results. Five of eight patients with multilevel cervical spondylosis reported improvements of myelopathic symptoms. Twenty-six (28.6%) complications were attributable to 91 surgical procedures including five severe complications and one fatality. Patients with three or more associated illnesses demonstrated a significantly higher incidence of postoperative complications.

Conclusions: Elderly patients with benign lesions of the spinal canal may achieve significant reduction in limb pain and increases in ADL following appropriate surgery, with a tolerable rate of severe complications. The preoperative physical condition of the elderly patient served as an indicator for operative morbidity.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / rehabilitation
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / surgery
  • Laminectomy
  • Male
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications / rehabilitation*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sciatica / rehabilitation
  • Sciatica / surgery
  • Spinal Canal / surgery*
  • Spinal Diseases / rehabilitation
  • Spinal Diseases / surgery*
  • Spinal Osteophytosis / rehabilitation
  • Spinal Osteophytosis / surgery
  • Spinal Stenosis / rehabilitation
  • Spinal Stenosis / surgery