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