A retrospective analysis of pedicle screws in contact with the great vessels

J Neurosurg Spine 13:403–406, 2010.DOI: 10.3171/2010.3.SPINE09657

Pedicle screws placed in the thoracic, lumbar, and sacral spine occasionally come in contact with the aorta, vena cava, or iliac vessels. When such screws are seen on postoperative imaging in an asymptomatic patient, the surgeon must decide whether it is riskier to revise the screw or to observe it. The authors hypothesized that the incidence of screw placement causing perioperative vessel injury is low and, further, that screws placed in contact with major vessels do not always result in vessel injury.

Methods. A retrospective review of the operative records of 182 consecutive patients undergoing thoracic, lumbar, and lumbosacral pedicle screw fusion was performed to determine the frequency of intraoperative vessel injury. Postoperative imaging for 107 patients was available to determine the incidence of screws in contact with major vessels. Charts were examined to determine if any adverse sequelae had resulted from malpositioned screws. Patient outcomes were documented.

Results. There were no intraoperative vessel injuries or deaths in 182 consecutive operations. One hundred seven patients with available postoperative films had 680 pedicle screws placed between T-3 and the sacrum during 115 operations. No patient had arterial screw penetration or deformation on postoperative imaging. Thirty-three of the 680 inserted screws were in contact with a major vessel on routine postoperative imaging. The contacted vessels included the aorta (4 cases), the iliac artery (7 cases), and the iliac veins (22 cases). Patients were followed up until death or November 2009, for a mean follow-up of 44 months (median 44 months, range 5–109 months). None of the patients with vessel contact was noted to suffer symptoms or sequelae as a result of vessel contact. Radiographic follow-up as long as 50 months after surgery revealed no detectable vessel abnormality at the contacted site.

Conclusions. Placing pedicle screws in contact with major vessels is a known risk of spinal surgery. The risk of repositioning a screw in contact with a major vessel but causing no symptoms must be weighed against the relative risk of leaving it in place.