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Wyatt L. Ramey, Alexander von Glinski, Andrew Jack, Ronen Blecher, Rod J. Oskouian and Jens R. Chapman

OBJECTIVE

The surgical treatment of osteomyelitis and discitis of the spine often represents a challenging clinical entity for a multitude of reasons, including progression of infection despite debridement, development of spinal deformity and instability, bony destruction, and seeding of hardware. Despite advancement in spinal hardware and implantation techniques, these aforementioned challenges not uncommonly result in treatment failure, especially in instances of heavy disease burden with enough bony endplate destruction as to not allow support of a modern titanium cage implant. While antibiotic-infused polymethylmethacrylate (aPMMA) has been used in orthopedic surgery in joints of the extremities, its use has not been extensively described in the spine literature. Herein, the authors describe for the first time a series of patients treated with a novel surgical technique for the treatment of spinal osteomyelitis and discitis using aPMMA strut grafts with posterior segmental fusion.

METHODS

Over the course of 3 years, all patients with spinal osteomyelitis and discitis at a single institution were identified and included in the retrospective cohort if they were surgically treated with spinal fusion and implantation of an aPMMA strut graft at the nidus of infection. Basic demographics, surgical techniques, levels treated, complications, and return to the operating room for removal of the aPMMA strut graft and placement of a traditional cage were examined. The surgical technique consisted of performing a discectomy and/or corpectomy at the level of osteomyelitis and discitis followed by placement of aPMMA impregnated with vancomycin and/or tobramycin into the cavity. Depending on the patient’s condition during follow-up and other deciding clinical and radiographic factors, the patient may return to the operating room nonurgently for removal of the PMMA spacer and implantation of a permanent cage with allograft to ultimately promote fusion.

RESULTS

Fifteen patients were identified who were treated with an aPMMA strut graft for spinal osteomyelitis and discitis. Of these, 9 patients returned to the operating room for aPMMA strut graft removal and insertion of a cage with allograft at an average of 19 weeks following the index procedure. The most common infections were methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus (n = 6) and methicillin-resistant S. aureus (n = 5). There were 13 lumbosacral infections and 1 each of cervical and thoracic infection. Eleven patients were cured of their infection, while 2 had recurrence of their infection; 2 patients were lost to follow-up. Three patients required unplanned return trips to the operating room, two of which were for wound complications, with the third being for recurrent infection.

CONCLUSIONS

In cases of severe infection with considerable bony destruction, insertion of an aPMMA strut graft is a novel technique that should be considered in order to provide strong anterior-column support while directly delivering antibiotics to the infection bed. While the active infection is being treated medically, this structural aPMMA support bridges the time it takes for the patient to be converted from a catabolic to an anabolic state, when it is ultimately safe to perform a definitive, curative fusion surgery.