Postoperative management protocol for incidental dural tears during degenerative lumbar spine surgery: a review of 3,183 consecutive degenerative lumbar cases

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2006 Oct 15;31(22):2609-13. doi: 10.1097/01.brs.0000241066.55849.41.


Study design: Retrospective review.

Objectives: To review the experience of a single institution with degenerative lumbar surgery and to identify cases of incidental dural tears (DTs); and to report on the efficacy of our postoperative management protocol for DT, which relies on early mobilization.

Summary of background data: DTs are a common complication of degenerative lumbar spine surgery. However, the management strategies for this complication vary from one surgeon to another.

Methods: A total of 3,183 degenerative lumbar spine cases (decompression and/or fusion) were reviewed. Cases complicated by an incidental DT were identified. Patients who required a return to the operating room for a second procedure were identified and the operative findings were reviewed.

Results: The incidence of DT during primary lumbar surgeries was 7.6% (153 of 2,024 cases), which compares to an incidence of 15.9% for revision cases (185 of 1,159 cases). If recognized during the index procedure, all DTs were repaired using a 4-0 silk suture. Six patients (4 primary, 2 revisions) who did not improve despite our postoperative management protocol were taken to the operating room for irrigation and debridement, repair of the defect, and placement of a subfascial drain to closed suction. All 6 patients went on to do well and did not have any further complications.

Conclusions: DTs are common during degenerative lumbar spine surgery. Revision surgery is twice as likely as primary surgery to result in this complication. Our postoperative early mobilization protocol appears to be an effective and safe management strategy for treating this complication (98.2% success rate). Very few patients (6 of 338, or 1.8%) needed a reoperation.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Decompression, Surgical / adverse effects
  • Disease Management
  • Dura Mater / injuries*
  • Dura Mater / surgery*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intraoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Care / methods*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Spinal Diseases / surgery*
  • Spinal Fusion / adverse effects