Spinal epidural hematoma is a rare condition. Because the etiology is often unclear and the medical history is frequently innocuous, a high index of suspicion is required in order to maximize the chances of a successful outcome.
This month’s “Case Connections” spotlights 4 cases of spinal epidural hematoma involving 2 elderly women, a male Olympic-caliber swimmer, and a preadolescent boy.
In the springboard case, from the March 22, 2017, edition of JBJS Case Connector, Yamaguchi et al. report on a 90-year-old woman with a history of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) and combined aspirin-dipyridamole therapy in whom a large spontaneous spinal epidural hematoma (SSEH) developed rapidly after she shifted her position in bed. The authors concluded that their case emphasized that “early diagnosis of an SSEH and prompt surgical intervention can avoid catastrophic and permanent neurological deterioration and compromise.”
Three additional JBJS Case Connector case reports summarized in the article focus on:
- An 82-year-old woman who developed an epidural hemorrhage and acute paraplegia following vertebroplasty
- A 22-year-old male collegiate swimmer who underwent an emergent operative spinal decompression procedure within 4 hours after presentation to the ED with searing back pain and decreased leg strength
- A 12-year-old boy who presented to the hospital with intense back pain along with numbness, tingling, and loss of motor function in the lower extremities 3 weeks after he had been pushed into a wall at school
Among the take-home points from this “Case Connections” article: MRI is the gold standard for the diagnosis of spinal epidural hematomas, and treatment typically involves operative decompression consisting of laminectomies and evacuation of the hematoma.
OrthoBuzz regularly brings you a current commentary on a “classic” article from The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery. These articles have been selected by the Editor-in-Chief and Deputy Editors of The Journal because of their long-standing significance to the orthopaedic community and the many citations they receive in the literature. Our OrthoBuzz commentators highlight the impact that these JBJS articles have had on the practice of orthopaedics. Please feel free to join the conversation by clicking on the “Leave a Comment” button in the box to the left.
Almost 50 years ago, in a classic 1968 JBJS paper, Leon Wiltse and co-authors described a novel and innovative access route to the lumbar spine. At that time, the vast majority of approaches to the lumbar spine were performed through midline incisions. Wiltse´s approach, however, utilized a more lateral access route to the spine. In this beautifully illustrated paper, the authors described a curved incision of the fascia and the skin with direct access to the transverse processes, pedicles, and the lateral masses.
The advantages of this novel access were multifold. Although wide midline laminectomies represented the gold-standard decompression technique at that time, the lateral approach served to avoid a more challenging and risky midline revision access, adding an elegant access for salvage procedures. Two goals of Wiltse’s approach were to achieve solid, posterolateral fusions and to decompress the neural structures. Graft harvest from the posterior iliac crest was easily facilitated with this approach.
Additional advantages included reduced blood loss and less muscle ischemia, and the preservation of spinous processes and intra-/supraspinous ligaments, which served to maintain the stability of the lumbar spine. The main downside was the necessity of performing two skin incisions as opposed to just one midline incision.
Since its introduction, Wiltse´s approach and the anatomic planes have been studied in great detail.1,2 Considering the vast developments in spine surgery over the last years and decades, the Wiltse approach has stood the test of time, as it still represents one of the main access routes to the lumbar spine that any skilled spine surgeon needs to master.
With the arrival of instrumentation, Wiltse´s approach was later employed in interbody fusion and minimally invasive transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF) techniques, as it allowed direct access to the pedicles and the disc space. It has also been used for various techniques of direct pars repair.3
With the addition of some minor modifications, Wiltse´s approach still reflects the main access for minimally invasive, microsurgical treatment of foraminal and extraforaminal disc herniations, including bony decompression of the neuroforamen.4 The far lateral access permits sufficient decompression of the exiting nerve roots while preserving the facet joints, which serves to avoid more invasive fusion techniques for a considerable number of patients.
Overall, Wiltse´s innovative approach advanced spinal care by reducing access–related morbidity. Dr. Wiltse passed away at age 92 in 2005. His major achievements in spine surgery and his great accomplishments will remain in our memories and will continue to impact spine surgery over the coming decades.
Christoph J. Siepe, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor
- Vialle R, Court C, Khouri N, et al. Anatomical study of the paraspinal approach to the lumbar spine. Eur Spine J. 2005;14(4):366-71.
- Palmer DK, Allen JL, Williams PA, et al. Multilevel magnetic resonance imaging analysis of multifidus-longissimus cleavage planes in the lumbar spine and potential clinical applications to Wiltse’s paraspinal approach. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2011;36(16):1263-7.
- Xing R, Dou Q, Li X, et al. Posterior Dynamic Stabilization With Direct Pars Repair via Wiltse Approach for the Treatment of Lumbar Spondylolysis: The Application of a Novel Surgery. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2016;41(8):E494-502.
- Mehren C, Siepe CJ. Neuroforaminal decompression and intra-/extraforaminal discectomy via a paraspinal muscle-splitting approach. Eur Spine J. 2016.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Brett A. Freedman, MD, in response to two recent NEJM studies on treating spondylolisthesis.
The April 14, 2016 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine published results from two randomized clinical trials (RCTs) evaluating the benefits of laminectomy alone versus laminectomy and fusion for the treatment of specific spinal conditions in patients 50 to 80 years old, with at least 2-year follow-up. The larger study was conducted in Sweden and included 247 patients, 135 of whom had degenerative spondylolisthesis of some magnitude. In this study, the surgical technique varied and was left to the treating provider’s preference. The ultimate conclusion of this study was that adding fusion to the procedure did not result in better patient outcomes by any index measured.
Conversely, an essentially concurrent but unrelated RCT evaluating similar outcomes in a US patient population (n=66) with degenerative spondylolisthesis that measured at least 3 mm, but in which there was no instability, concluded that spinal fusion, using a standardized technique (pedicle screws and rods with iliac crest bone graft), did provide a significant clinical benefit. Specifically, this study found significant improvement in SF-36 physical-component summary scores (the primary outcome measure) and lower reoperation rates (14% vs. 34%; p=0.05) compared to decompression alone.
When two Level 1 studies published on the same day in the same high-impact journal come to divergent conclusions about the same clinical question, we must pause and look to the past. Spine surgeons have investigated decompression alone for spondylolisthesis, first by necessity (prior to the era of reliable spinal fusion) and then later in comparison to in-situ and instrumented fusion1,2. Consensus is consistent with anatomic reasoning. Dysfunctional lumbar mobile segments, especially those with preserved or excessive motion (i.e. >2 to 4 mm change on flexion-extension films), produce a mechanical pathoanatomic sequence of events that leads to critical and clinically symptomatic spinal stenosis. Addressing this first cause is paramount.
The immediate effect of surgery type is largely neutralized by the fact that the decompression component, which is common to both approaches, is principally responsible for acute improvement. Because most prospective studies are not able to reliably track patients beyond 2 to 5 years, the longer-term benefits of a solid arthrodesis of a dysfunctional spinal-motion segment compared to a simple decompression in which some of the incompetent posterior elements are further surgically removed remain largely unknown. Anecdotally, spine surgeons recognize that failures of decompression alone in mobile spondylolisthesis occur quite frequently—and that revision fusion surgery in this situation is significantly more complicated than primary decompression and fusion. That was the case in the Swedish study, where the majority of revision surgeries in the decompression-only cohort were performed at the same level as the prior surgery, versus adjacent levels in the fusion group. And, again, reoperation rates were significantly higher (>2x) in the decompression-only group in the US study.
Given conflicting data3, there likely are cofactors that need to be identified and further studied to select cases of spondylolisthesis that can be treated well with decompression alone, versus those that require the stabilizing effect of a fusion. Until then, surgeons must weigh the data available and provide the surgical option they feel is best for each individual patient.
Brett A. Freedman, MD is an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in spine trauma and degenerative spinal diseases at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN
- Fischgrund JS, Mackay M, Herkowitz HN, Brower R, Montgomery DM, Kurz LT. Degenerative lumbar spondylolisthesis with spinal stenosis: a prospective, randomized study comparing decompressive laminectomy and arthrodesis with and without spinal instrumentation. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1997 Dec 15;22(24):2807-12.
- Bridwell KH, Sedgewick TA, O’Brien MF, Lenke LG, Baldus C. The role of fusion and instrumentation in the treatment of degenerative spondylolisthesis with spinal stenosis. J Spinal Disord. 1993 Dec;6(6):461-72.
- Joaquim AF, Milano JB, Ghizoni E, Patel AA. Is There a Role for Decompression Alone for Treating Symptomatic Degenerative Lumbar Spondylolisthesis?: A Systematic Review. J Spinal Disord Tech. 2015 Dec 24. [Epub ahead of print]
Infections of the spine are particularly challenging to orthopaedists because they often present emergently, can be difficult to diagnose precisely, and can have catastrophic or fatal outcomes if not treated effectively.The September 23, 2015 “Case Connections” from JBJS Case Connector discusses five cases of rare but serious spinal infections.
The “Case Connections” springboards from a September 9, 2015 JBJS Case Connector case report by Rosinsky et al. that describes a sixty-five-year-old man who presented with fever and intractable lumbar pain that radiated to his right leg. In this case, a methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA) infection had formed a large lobulated epidural abscess at L4-S1, with paraspinal muscle and intradural extension. One year after an L3-S1 laminectomy and two follow-up surgeries to treat hematomas and repair dural perforations, the patient was neurologically intact and walking independently.
The Rosinsky et al. case and the three other relevant “connections” from the JBJS Case Connector archive emphasize that prompt, definitive diagnosis and treatment of spinal infections–and enlisting the expertise of infectious-disease specialists–can lead to positive outcomes, while delay and clinical confusion can end catastrophically or fatally.
Improvements in surgical procedures continue to evolve at a brisk pace. It seems that, every year, incisions become smaller and operations, more streamlined. Certain operations that in the past would only have been performed as inpatient procedures are now being considered for outpatient surgery with same-day discharge.
In the May 2015 issue of JBJS Reviews, Kurd et al. review the ability to perform spine surgery in an ambulatory setting. The authors note that anterior surgical discectomy and fusion is now commonly performed in an ambulatory surgery center and, if patients are carefully selected, lumbar microdiscectomies and laminectomies can be performed in an ambulatory surgery center as well. The authors stress the importance of an established transfer plan to a hospital when needed and the ability to treat neurologic complications if they occur. Most importantly, the ability to treat potentially serious complications in a timely manner is critical.
The rationale for performing spine surgery in an ambulatory surgery center is primarily for the convenience of the patient. The authors note that friendly staff, minimal wait times, efficiency, and perhaps ease of parking allow for ambulatory surgery centers to have overall patient satisfaction rates of up to 92%. In addition, by moving procedures out of a hospital and into ambulatory surgery centers, the cost savings to Medicare alone have been substantial.
Practice guidelines for some of the important decisions regarding patients undergoing anesthesia have been established by the Society for Ambulatory Anesthesia (SAMBA), whose goal is to provide guidance on the use of anesthesia in an ambulatory setting. Recommendations such as avoiding general anesthesia when possible, using propofol for induction and maintenance, avoiding nitrous oxide and other volatile anesthetics, minimizing the use of opioids, and maintaining adequate hydration are among the most important. In addition, SAMBA recommends that all diabetic patients undergoing surgery at an ambulatory surgery center should have a hemoglobin A1C of <7%.
While several reports have established the safety of performing cervical surgical spine surgery in an ambulatory surgery center, concerns still exist regarding the treatment of life-threatening events such as an epidural hematoma. Other rare complications such as vertebral artery injury or esophageal injury require intraoperative consultation with another surgery subspecialty such as vascular surgery or otolaryngology, and such consultations may not be available in an ambulatory surgery center.
The spinal procedure that is most commonly performed on an outpatient basis is a single-level lumbar decompression. Microdiscectomy is also frequently performed. This article reviews the largest prospective series of outpatient lumbar discectomies to date and indicates that the role of proper patient selection is paramount and that comorbidities such as obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a history of stroke increase the risk of needing hospitalization. As the use of the ambulatory setting for spinal surgery continues to evolve, further delineation of the ideal conditions and requirements will become evident. In the meantime, elderly patients and patients with multiple comorbidities may be better managed at a hospital as they are at an increased risk of requiring hospitalization.
Thomas A. Einhorn, MD
Editor, JBJS Reviews
Two interesting investigations into lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS) appeared in the general medical literature recently.
—A registry-based observational study of nearly 900 patients in the BMJ found that microdecompression techniques were as effective as open laminectomy in improving disability scores 12 months after surgery. The two techniques yielded similar quality-of-life scores at the one-year point, but the microdecompression patients had shorter hospital stays.
—In Annals of Internal Medicine, a multisite randomized study of 170 patients 50 or older with lumbar spinal stenosis found that those receiving surgical decompression and those receiving physical therapy (2 PT visits per week for six weeks focused on lumbar flexion and general conditioning) had essentially the same functional outcomes at time points ranging from 10 weeks to two years after enrollment. However, 57% of patients assigned to PT crossed over to surgery—some due to high copays for physical therapy, said study co-author Anthony Delitto, PT. In an editorial accompanying the study, JBJS Deputy Editor for Methodology and Biostatistics Jeffrey Katz, MD, concluded, “Because long-term outcomes are similar for both treatments yet short-term risks differ, patient preferences should weigh heavily in the decision of whether to have surgery for LSS.”