Approximately 200,000 Americans undergo back surgeries each year. While most published statistics claim a success rate of approximately 80%, physician practice indicates that the success rate of back surgery is closer to 50%. Although there are a number of different surgical procedures carried out by physicians performing back surgery, all fall into two types: decompression and stabilization.
Decompression may be used when a disc is pressing on a nerve. Stabilization or spinal fusion is used to eliminate weakness. There are many types of back surgeries including the laminectomy, anterior lumbar interbody fusion, transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion, and discectomy. Many of these surgeries involve the placement of titanium screws and plates to stabilize or fuse the spine.
Proper placement of the screws and plates is a critical factor influencing the outcome of the surgery. If the "hardware" is not properly placed by the surgeon, a poor result may occur which could require another surgery. However, sometimes the hardware could be properly placed during surgery, and a subsequent event cause it to shift or to become malpositioned.
In addition to issues involving the proper placement of hardware during back surgery, errors may also occur in the pre and post-operative setting. For instance, certain blood-thinning medications should be discontinued during the preoperative period to ensure that bleeding can be controlled during surgery. Postoperatively, a surgeon must be on alert for the formation of blood clots or hematomas. If a hematoma forms near the spinal cord, it can lead to permanent quadriplegia.
Cutting nerves or major arteries can also be a potential problem during back surgery. An anterior surgical approach to back surgery requires the surgeon to access the back through the abdomen. This may require the skills of two surgeons, a general surgeon to go in first and identify the major arteries like the iliac artery before the orthopedic surgeon begins his part of the operation.
Care must also be taken to avoid damage to the spinal cord. Since the spinal cord does not regenerate, any injury to it during the surgery can have devastating consequences.
Not every bad outcome from a back surgery means that medical malpractice was committed. In spite of the best efforts, complications can occur. Also, there is no guarantee that all pain will be gone for good after surgery. Thus, it is extremely important to have an attorney with extensive experience in handling back injury claims review your case.
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