Risks of Surgery

No form of treatment is without risk!

Some of the adverse effects of surgery are predictable and some are unexpected.

Death following surgery is rare and in South Australia. The anaesthetic death rate is approximately 1 in 20,000. Neurological complications and paralysis can occur, but are also very uncommon, and certain procedures are associated with more risk than others.

Post-operative infection occurs in approximately 1% of patients, and antibiotics are given prior to the commencement of surgery to minimize this risk. Where implants are used (screws, rods, plates or cages) the risk of infection is slightly greater. The presence of infection in other sites at the time of your admission (i.e. bladder, chest or skin) may increase the risk of post-operative infection, and in some cases will result in your surgery being postponed.

Should an infection develop after surgery it can usually be treated effectively with a course of antibiotics. However, in some cases, particularly where screws, rods, plates or cages have been used, a second operation may be required to clear infected tissue and relieve pain.

Venous thrombosis and embolism are uncommon after elective spinal surgery, particularly where mobilization occurs on the day of, or the day after surgery. The risk is greatest in anterior spinal fusion patients, but still occurs in less that 5% of cases. For this reason routine prophylaxis may not be used. If you have a past history of thrombosis, or have any further questions about this please speak to your surgeon.

A variety of other complications may occur from time to time and include retrograde ejaculation. This complication affects males who undergo anterior spinal surgery at the lumbo-sacral junction. Young males concerned about this risk may elect to donate semen for storage prior to undergoing surgery of this type.

Injury to the large vessels in your abdomen is also possible with anterior surgery, but can usually be dealt with without long term consequence.

The sympathetic nerves adjacent to the spine which pass on to the left leg may be irritated or damaged during anterior spinal surgery which results in a temperature difference between your left and right leg. This is of no consequence in relation to the function of the lower limb.

Should you require further information about any of these risks please discuss them with your surgeon.