Failure of stabilization of the spine with methylmethacrylate. A retrospective analysis of twenty-four cases

P. C. McAfee, H. H. Bohlman, T. Ducker, F. J. Eismont

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Twenty-four patients who had a major complication after attempted stabilization of the spine with methylmethacrylate were referred for treatment. The initial instability that necessitated stabilization was caused by a traumatic condition in fifteen of these patients and by a metastatic tumor in nine. The average length of time before failure of fixation was 208.3 days for the patients who had a traumatic condition and 193.7 days for those who had a neoplasm. In eleven patients a progressive neural deficit developed postoperatively, and in six others the recovery of neural function was possibly hindered by the cement. A deep wound infection developed in six patients, and in five of them treatment by removal of the methylmethacrylate and metal, followed by a prolonged period of cervical traction, was required. Loosening and failure of fixation was the most common complication - it occurred in twelve of the fifteen patients who had a traumatic lesion and in eight of the nine who had a neoplasm. Salvage operations that included removal of the cement and conventional bone-grafting procedures were performed in eleven of the twelve patients who had loosening associated with a traumatic lesion and in six of the eight who had loosening and tumor. Stability was restored in every patient. Improved long-term results can be achieved by using grafts of iliac bone and triple-wire stabilization methods (a midline wiring between the spinous processes and two iliac-crest grafts, one on each side, wired to the posterior elements) instead of methacrylate in the primary treatment of traumatic injuries. The treatment of choice for instability caused by neoplastic destruction of two or more vertebral bodies includes a construct of methylmethacrylate anteriorly. However, if cement is used, early augmentation with posterior fusion of the spine and stabilization should be considered. As a rule, combined anterior and posterior stabilization is recommended for the reconstruction of a spine that is unstable due to neoplastic destruction. In general, whenever methylmethacrylate is used for spinal stabilization, it should be augmented with grafts of iliac bone to provide long-term stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1145-1157
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Bone and Joint Surgery - Series A
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jan 1 1986

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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