Spine Infections


Jessica Albanese, MD,1 Brett Rocos, MB, ChB, MD, FRCS (Tr & Orth),2

1 Adult Spine Fellow, Division of Spine Surgery, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.
2 Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Division of Spine Surgery, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.


Abstract: Though they have significant morbidity and mortality, spine infections are a rare cause of back pain. Because they are uncommon, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a spine infection, to establish the diagnosis, and to treat appropriately, guided by culture results, with antibiotic therapy. Surgical intervention is indicated in cases of significant neurologic deficit, significant spinal deformity, instability, and/or failed medical management.
Key Words:spinal infection, spondylodiscitis, discitis, vertebral osteomyelitis, epidural abscess, back pain.

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Patients with spine infections often present with back pain and may have radicular pain, neurologic deficits, or constitutional signs and symptoms of infection
Workup begins with laboratory studies including, CBC, CRP, and ESR
The gold standard for imaging is MRI
Definitive diagnosis may require CT-guided biopsy and culture
The mainstay of treatment is at least 6 weeks of antibiotic therapy guided by culture results
Surgical intervention is indicated in cases of progressive neurologic deficit or spinal deformity, instability, or failed medical management
Spinal infections can present insidiously
Refer early if patients present with back pain and unexplained fever
Prompt identification with MRI improves likelihood of recovery
Antibiotic treatment for 6 weeks is recommended
Surgery is useful for neurological deficit or instability
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