Surgical management of nontuberculous thoracic and lumbar vertebral osteomyelitis: Report of 33 cases

Paul M. Arnold, Paul N. Baek, Robert J. Bernardi, Elizabeth A. Luck, Sanford J. Larson

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BACKGROUND: Thirty-three patients with nontuberculous pyogenic thoracic and lumbar vertebral osteomyelitis were treated surgically. Indications for surgery were either progression of disease despite adequate antibiotic therapy, neurologic deficit, or both. The most common initial symptom was back pain. Seven patients had diabetes, seven patients were intravenous drug users, two patients were receiving immunosuppressive therapy, and seven patients had a debilitating disease. Eleven had infections elsewhere in their bodies. Prior to surgery organisms were grown from blood in 10 patients and at surgery in 15 patients. METHODS: Infection was evident on plain films in all patients, and either a CT scan or MRI was obtained in each. The lateral extracavitary approach was used for resection of granulation tissue and infected bone ventral to the dura. Interbody bone grafts were placed in 19 patients, usually when bone resection was extensive. Posterior instrumentation was placed in 17 patients at a second procedure 10 days-2 weeks following initial operation. Intravenous antibiotics were administered for 4-6 weeks following surgery, and solid fusion was obtained in all patients. RESULTS: Neurologic deficit was present in 28 patients prior to surgery and was functionally significant in 18 patients. Of the 11 patients with severe paraparesis, 10 achieved good functional recovery. These patients were able to walk, three with assistance and seven without, and all those who were unable to void regained this ability. CONCLUSIONS: Surgical debridement, interbody fusion, and posterior instrumentation is a safe and effective treatment for vertebral osteomyelitis and is indicated when neurologic deficit or bone destruction progress despite adequate antibiotic therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)551-561
Number of pages11
JournalSurgical Neurology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Osteomyelitis
  • spinal infection
  • spine surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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