Object: Previous studies of surgical complications associated with posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF) are of limited value due to intrastudy variation in instrumentation and fusion techniques. The purpose of the present study was to examine rates of intraoperative and postoperative complications of PLIF using a large number of cases with uniform instrumentation and a uniform fusion technique.
Methods: The authors reviewed the hospital records of 251 patients who underwent PLIF for degenerative lumbar disorders between 1996 and 2002 and who could be followed for at least 2 years. Intraoperative, early postoperative, and late postoperative complications were investigated. Intraoperative complications occurred in 26 patients: dural tearing in 19 patients and pedicle screw malposition in seven patients. Intraoperative complications did not affect the postoperative clinical results. Early postoperative complications occurred in 19 patients: brain infarction occurred in one, infection in one, and neurological complications in 17. Of the 17 patients with neurological complications, nine showed severe motor loss such as foot drop; the remaining eight patients showed slight motor loss or radicular pain alone, and their symptoms improved within 6 weeks. Late postoperative complications occurred in 17 patients: hardware failure in three, nonunion in three, and adjacent-segment degeneration in 11. Postoperative progression of symptomatic adjacent-segment degeneration was defined as a condition that required additional surgery to treat neurological deterioration.
Conclusions: The most serious complications of PLIF were postoperative severe neurological deficits and adjacent-segment degeneration. Prevention and management of such complications are necessary to attain good long-term clinical results.