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Depression Increases the Rates of Neurological Complications and Failed Back Surgery Syndrome in Patients Undergoing Lumbar Spine Surgery

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Study Design:

This was a retrospective database study.


The aim of this study was to use a large sample to accurately determine risk factors and rates of neurological complications in patients undergoing commonly performed lumbar spine surgeries.

Summary of Background Data:

Damage to neurological structures and failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) are among the most feared complications of lumbar spine surgery. Despite the large impact on quality of life these complications have, reported rates of neurological complications vary immensely, ranging from 0.46% to 24%.

Materials and Methods:

Data were obtained for patients undergoing initial posterior lumbar interbody fusion, transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion, anterior lumbar interbody fusion, posterolateral fusion, discectomy, and laminectomy procedures from January 2007 to June 2015 covered by the nationwide insurance carrier Humana. Patient records were analyzed to determine rates of dural tear, damage to nervous tissue, cauda equina syndrome, neurogenic bowel/bladder, and FBSS following each procedure. Rates were determined for patients undergoing single/multilevel procedures, by age, and for patients with a previous diagnosis of depression to determine the influence these factors had on the risk of neurologic complications.


Analysis of 70,581 patient records revealed a dural tear rate of 2.87%, damage to the nervous tissue of 1.47%, cauda equina syndrome of 0.75%, neurogenic bowel or bladder of 0.45%, and FBSS of 15.05% following lumbar spine surgery. The incidence of complications was highest for patients undergoing multilevel procedures and posterior fusion. Depression was a significant risk factor for FBSS (risk ratio, 1.74; P<0.0001), damage to nervous tissue (1.41; P<0.0001), and dural tear (1.15; P<0.0001), but had no impact on risk of cauda equina syndrome or neurogenic bowel or bladder. Increased age was associated with higher rates of dural tear and damage to nervous tissue.


Patients with a history of depression are at significantly increased risk for neurologic complications following lumbar spine surgery and should be managed accordingly.

Keywords: depression; failed back surgery syndrome; lumbar spine surgery; neurological complications

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

Publication date: March 1, 2019

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