Complications associated with prone positioning in elective spinal surgery

World J Orthop. 2015 Apr 18;6(3):351-9. doi: 10.5312/wjo.v6.i3.351.


Complications associated with prone surgical positioning during elective spine surgery have the potential to cause serious patient morbidity. Although many of these complications remain uncommon, the range of possible morbidities is wide and includes multiple organ systems. Perioperative visual loss (POVL) is a well described, but uncommon complication that may occur due to ischemia to the optic nerve, retina, or cerebral cortex. Closed-angle glaucoma and amaurosis have been reported as additional etiologies for vision loss following spinal surgery. Peripheral nerve injuries, such as those caused by prolonged traction to the brachial plexus, are more commonly encountered postoperative events. Myocutaneous complications including pressure ulcers and compartment syndrome may also occur after prone positioning, albeit rarely. Other uncommon positioning complications such as tongue swelling resulting in airway compromise, femoral artery ischemia, and avascular necrosis of the femoral head have also been reported. Many of these are well-understood and largely avoidable through thoughtful attention to detail. Other complications, such as POVL, remain incompletely understood and thus more difficult to predict or prevent. Here, the current literature on the complications of prone positioning for spine surgery is reviewed to increase awareness of the spectrum of potential complications and to inform spine surgeons of strategies to minimize the risk of prone patient morbidity.

Keywords: Complications; Patient positioning; Prevention and control; Prone position; Spine.

Publication types

  • Review