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Anne Asher

Dural Tears During Back Surgery

By May 5, 2010

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Lumbar discectomy is the most common back surgery.

What's the most common type of spine surgery for people with back and leg pain? According to the American Association of Neurosurgeons, its lumbar discectomy.

Sometimes the doctor will, by accident, nick the dura during the surgery. The dura is the outer most layer of tissue that covers the spinal cord. This may happen despite your surgeon's best effort, because the tissues that make up the spine are quite delicate. Also, the risk of a tear during surgery is increased if you have diabetes, you're obese, you smoke, you have back conditions such as spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, stenosis (or other), or you've had back surgery before. Your daily posture and movement habits play a role in the risk as well.

One of the main symptoms of a dural tear is a big headache.

According to the CDC, many hospitals avoid reporting dural tears as they happen. It's not hard to guess why - it doesn't put a hospital in its best light when statistics show there's been a signifcant number of dural tears due to spine surgeries performed in their facility. If you haven't heard of dural tears, this underreporting may be part of the reason.

A new study, which looked at data collected by a well-regarded study called the SPORT trial (Spine Patients Outcomes Research Trial) found that dural tears occur at a rate of about 3.2%. The researchers also found that dural tears from a discectomy might present problems in the short term - the surgery will take longer, for example. But this injury doesn't affect the outcome of the surgery in the long term, the study found.

Should you get a dural tear during surgery, you will need treatment for it. Don't hesitate to tell your doctor or nurse if you have a headache right after your surgery.

American Association of Neurosurgeons. Press Release. SPORT Study Shows that Complication of Most Common Back Surgery Performed in the U.S. Does Not Affect Long Term Patient Outcome. Accessed: May 4, 2010.

Incidental Durotomy/Dural Tears. ICD-9-CM Coordination and Maintenance Committee. March 19-20, 2008. John D. Shaw, President, Next Wave, Albany, NY. www.cdc.gov/nchs/ppt/icd9/att5ShawMar08B_97-03.ppt

| Disectomy | Back Pain | Failed Back Surgery Syndrome |


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July 6, 2010 at 1:34 am
(1) Spine Idaho says:

The current life style and working habits of common man increase the reasons of having a surgery. Headache is a common symptom found in people due to stress and strains in their life and working habits.

March 9, 2011 at 9:42 am
(2) mjcraig1 says:

Spine Idaho:
The kind of headache she wrote about in this article is one coming from the nicked dura. It causes leakage of the spinal fluid, which causes a horrific headache that is not the common everyday headache of everyday life and working habits.

March 23, 2012 at 12:32 pm
(3) Toni House says:

My sister had back surgery January of 2011. The Dr. said everything went good. The surgery took a lot longer than it should have. Last night she was having so much pain that she went in to see a back surgeon, (not the Dr who did the surgery) that Dr. got her MR from the surgery and spoke with the surgeon who told him that she got a dural tear during the surgery. We were very upset that the Dr never told us this after surgery. She has been having severe headaches and severe back pain. She has a tinge unit inside her back and wants it taken out but the Drs don’t want to do it now because they don’t want to take a chance of another dural tear. If anyone has any advice for us please write me back. She is doing PT to try and help with the pain. No pain medication has helped at all.

Sincerely, Toni House

March 23, 2012 at 3:10 pm
(4) Shelice says:

They finally open me back up I had the biggest dural tear he ever seen. The worst pain in my like, nothing helps those headaches.

January 23, 2013 at 12:10 am
(5) Rajneesh says:

My mother got operated in Jan 2013. She also suffered dural tear during the surgery and having severe headache and pain in right leg – post surgery. Surgery was taken to relieve left leg pain, dont know why the right leg is having pain post surgery.

February 12, 2013 at 3:57 am
(6) Cocosolo says:

I had the same surgery and circumstances in January Rajneesh and my Dr. had to give me steroids to stop the pain in that leg.

September 11, 2013 at 7:25 am
(7) kathleen gibbons says:

i had a bulging disc operation on 1 st june, was sent home one the 2nd june, even though i did not feel well, started getting headaches from the 4 th june, then a lot fluid coming out back wound, my doc got me sent back to hospital on 11 june, as leak was bad, waited 3 hrs in casualty to see consultant, first thing he said was i have not tore you i would have known, told me i was allergic to cat gut he used, and sent me home with antibiotics, had a terrible night, my doc came to my home on the morning sent me back in, he then admitted dural tear, had repair operation on 14th june, spent 10 days in hospital very ill, i had constant diarrhea, was discharge out hospital, telling me it was my diverticulitis that was the problem, 10 weeks post op i am still the same but leg back pain back, just had a scan today, and seeing consultant tomorrow to see if something went wrong with dural tear operation, as regards some damage to bowel nerves, if not have see bowel consultant, has anyone else had this type of problem after dural tear operation, kath,,

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