Direct lateral retroperitoneal approach for the surgical treatment of lumbar discitis and osteomyelitis

Karthik Madhavan, Steven Vanni, Seth K. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Object. The medical management of discitis and osteomyelitis with long-term antibiotic therapy and bracing usually results in eradicated infection. Surgical management is appropriate when medical management fails and in some cases with pyogenic deformity or neurological deficit. The success of surgery depends on adequate debridement of the necrotic infected disc and vertebral body, along with anterior column reconstruction and vertebral stabiliza-tion. Debridement is typically performed via an anterior retroperitoneal approach, which can necessitate mobilization of the great vessels for proper exposure. Mobilization can be technically difficult and lead to vascular injury. The purpose of this study was to evaluate an alternative technique for the surgical treatment of lumbar discitis and osteo-myelitis using a direct lateral retroperitoneal approach, which allows for thorough debridement and anterior column reconstruction while avoiding the need to mobilize the great vessels. Methods. A retrospective chart analysis was performed for all patients who had presented with lumbar discitis and osteomyelitis and had undergone surgical management via the direct lateral retroperitoneal approach in the pe-riod from 2006 to 2013. Collected data included surgical blood loss, perioperative complications (wound infection, vascular injury, approach-related complications, and neurological injury), need for secondary procedures, microbio-logical and laboratory results, and efficacy of infection eradication. Imaging studies were reviewed as well. Results. Ten patients, 7 male and 3 female, underwent this procedure at the authors' institution in the defined pe-riod. Average blood loss was 272 ml (range 150-800 ml, with 800 ml in the only 2-level case). There were no vascular injuries. Average follow-up was 680 days, although 4 patients did not complete the follow-up beyond 6 months. Eight patients underwent immediate posterior pedicle screw instrumentation. Two patients did not undergo posterior instru-mentation, and one of these developed a kyphotic deformity that required a secondary posterior procedure. Infection was eradicated in all patients according to a history, physical examination, imaging studies, and laboratory param-eters (complete blood count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and C-reactive protein). One patient developed a painful neuroma at the iliac crest harvest site, and one patient had a retroperitoneal hematoma. Otherwise, there were no approach-related neurological injuries or complications. Neither was there any postoperative surgical site infection. Conclusions. The direct lateral approach for the surgical treatment of lumbar discitis and osteomyelitis allows for thorough debridement and spinal reconstruction without the need to mobilize the great vessels. This technique effectively eradicated infection in all cases, with reasonable blood loss and no vascular injuries. This approach should be considered as an alternative to the open anterior approach. The authors recommend posterior instrumentation to prevent the development of kyphosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberE5
JournalNeurosurgical focus
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014


  • Discitis
  • Lateral retroperitoneal approach
  • Minimally invasive spine surgery
  • Vertebral osteomyelitis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


Dive into the research topics of 'Direct lateral retroperitoneal approach for the surgical treatment of lumbar discitis and osteomyelitis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this