Accuracy of pedicle screw placement in the lumbosacral spine using conventional technique: CT postoperative assessment in 102 consecutive patients

Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. March 2010.DOI: 10.3171/2009.9.SPINE09261

The goal of this study was to determine the incidence of screw misplacement and complications in a group of 102 patients who underwent transpedicle screw fixation in the lumbosacral spine with conventional open technique and intraoperative fluoroscopy. The results are compared with published data.

Methods: Cases involving 102 consecutive patients (424 inserted screws) were reviewed. Surgery was performed in all cases by the same surgeon’s team, using the same implant, and all results were assessed by means of a specific CT protocol. The screw position was assessed by the authors and an independent observer. Screw position was classified as correct when the screw was completely surrounded by the pedicle cortex, as “cortical encroachment” (questionable violation) if the pedicle cortex could not be visualized, and as “frank penetration” when the screw was outside the pedicular boundaries. Frank penetration was further subdivided as minor (when the edge of the screw thread was up to 2.0 mm outside the pedicle cortex), moderate (2.1–4 mm), and severe (> 4 mm). The incidence of intra- and postoperative complications not related to screw position as well as hardware failures were also registered, with a minimum follow-up duration of 8 months.

Results: The rate of frank pedicle screw misplacement was 5%. The rate of minimal or questionable pedicle wall violation was 2.8%. Among the frank misplacements, 6 were classified as minor, 12 as moderate, and 3 as severe penetration. Two patients (2%) had radicular pain and neurological deficits (inferomedial and inferolateral minor misplacement at L-4 and L-5, respectively), and 5 patients (4.9%) complained only of radicular pain. At the follow-up examination all patients had completely recovered their neurological function and radicular pain was resolved in all cases. The complications not related to screw malposition were 2 pedicle fractures (2% of patients), 1 nerve root injury (1%), and 1 dural laceration (1%). Five patients (4.8%) had postoperative anemia and required transfusions. Superficial or deep wound infection was noted in 3 patients (2.9%). Late hardware failure occurred in 2 patients (2%). One patient developed adjacent segmental instability and required additional surgery to extend the fusion.

Conclusions: Our rates of screw misplacement and complications compare favorably with the lowest rates of the series in which conventional technique was used and are close to the rates reported for image-guided methods. The risk of malpositioning may be reduced with careful preoperative surgical planning, accurate knowledge of the spinal anatomy, surgical experience, and correct indication for conventional surgery. The conventional technique still remains a practical, safe, and effective surgical method for lumbosacral fixation.