Postoperative Dexamethasone Following Posterior Spinal Fusion for Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis

J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2020 Oct 21;102(20):1807-1813. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.20.00259.


Background: Surgeons have hesitated to use steroids in patients undergoing posterior spinal fusion because of the risk of wound complications. The literature has supported the use of postoperative steroids in other areas of orthopaedics on the basis of more rapid recovery and improved postoperative pain control. We hypothesized that a short course of postoperative dexamethasone following posterior spinal fusion for the treatment of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) would decrease opioid usage without increasing wound-healing problems.

Methods: Consecutive patients undergoing posterior spinal fusion for the treatment of AIS from 2015 to 2018 at a single hospital were included. A review of demographic characteristics, curve characteristics, surgical data, and postoperative clinic notes was performed. Opioid usage was determined by converting all postoperative opioids given into morphine milligram equivalents (MME).

Results: Sixty-five patients underwent posterior spinal fusion for the treatment of AIS without postoperative steroids (the NS group), and 48 patients were managed with 3 doses of postoperative steroids (the WS group) (median, 8.0 mg/dose). There was no difference between the groups in terms of curve magnitude, number of vertebrae fused, or estimated blood loss. There was a 39.6% decrease in total MME used and a 29.5% decrease in weight-based MME used in the group receiving postoperative steroids (82.0 mg [1.29 mg/kg] in the NS group versus 49.5 mg [0.91 mg/kg] in the WS group]; p < 0.001). This difference persisted after accounting for gabapentin, ketorolac, and diazepam usage; surgical time; curve size; levels fused; and number of osteotomies (median decrease, 0.756 mg/kg [95% CI, 0.307 to 1.205 mg/kg]; p = 0.001). Three patients in the NS group (4.6%) and 4 patients in the WS group (8.3%) developed wound dehiscence requiring wound care (p = 0.53). One patient in the NS group required surgical debridement for the treatment of an infection. Patients in the WS group were more likely to walk at the time of the initial physical therapy evaluation (60.4% versus 35.4%; p = 0.013).

Conclusions: A short course of postoperative steroids after posterior spinal fusion was associated with a 40% decrease in the use of opioids, with no increase in wound complications. Surgeons may consider the use of perioperative steroids in an effort to decrease the use of postoperative opioids following posterior spinal fusion for the treatment of AIS.

Level of evidence: Therapeutic Level III. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Dexamethasone / therapeutic use*
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy
  • Postoperative Care / methods*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Scoliosis / surgery*
  • Spinal Fusion / methods*
  • Wound Healing / drug effects


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Dexamethasone