Spine surgeries encompass a broad range of procedures — from minimally invasive laser procedures to major operations. Advances in modern medicine have greatly refined spinal surgeries. Yet preventable errors harm patients in many back and neck operations. Given the importance of the spine to our functioning and major body systems, medical or surgical mistakes often leave a trail of devastating consequences. Damage to a patient's nervous system, decreased mobility, chronic pain, paralysis or even death can result from surgical negligence.
The human vertebral column (backbone) is a complex structure with 33 individual vertebrae. Operating at the wrong level of the spine is a prevalent error in surgeries at the lumbar, thoracic or cervical levels. In fact, according to a 2008 study in the journal Spine, wrong-level surgeries are nearly nine times more common in spinal procedures than wrong-site hand surgeries.
Other types of errors in back and neck surgeries include:
- Failure to take a time out before beginning
- Inadequate review of the patient's medical history
- Improper preoperative diagnosis
- Unnecessary delay in performing surgery
- Missing equipment or instrumentation
- Improper technique resulting in iatrogenic injury
- Damage to delicate nerve tissues or the spinal cord
- Failure to recognize post-operative complications
Cauda Equina Syndrome
A particularly dangerous post-operative complication following low back surgery is cauda equina syndrome. This is a surgical emergency. In patients with cauda equina syndrome, compression of the spinal nerve roots in the lumbar and sacral spine causes neurologic dysfunction. This can occur after spine surgery because of re-herniation of a disk, hematoma or other fluid accumulation causing pressure on the nerves at the end of the spinal cord — known as the cauda equina. All doctors, nurses and other health professionals who treat spine patients must be trained to recognize and report any concern for cauda equina syndrome.
Signs and symptoms of cauda equina syndrome include numbness in the groin (perineum or saddle area) and bladder or bowel problems such as incontinence or inability to urinate or have a bowel movement. Other symptoms include low back pain and sexual dysfunction or impotence. Severe or progressive problems in the lower extremities, including loss or altered sensation between the legs, over the buttocks, the inner thighs and back of the legs and feet/heels can likewise be indications of cauda equina syndrome. Symptoms can vary in intensity and may evolve slowly over time.
Early diagnosis and treatment are required to prevent permanent problems. If doctors don't undertake prompt surgical intervention to relieve the pressure, cauda equina syndrome can result in permanent paralysis, impaired bladder and/or bowel control, loss of sexual sensation and other major problems.
Experience You Can Rely On
At Goethel Engelhardt, PLLC, we pursue justice for victims of surgical errors. Our medical malpractice attorneys devote their careers to helping clients get answers. If you or a loved one has suffered life-altering consequences as a result of negligence in the health care system, you can rely on our 30-plus years of experience and proven track record of multimillion-dollar results.
We represent victims of surgical errors that occurred in any type of back or neck operation, including:
- Stabilization procedures
- Spinal fusion procedures
- Lumbar disk replacement
- Bone grafting
- Spinal osteotomies
- Spinal decompression procedures
- Laser procedures
Call our Michigan office at 866-822-8237 or complete the online contact form to request a free initial consultation. Our lawyers handle malpractice cases involving neck and back surgery nationwide.