Complications of Spinal Fusion With Harrington Rods

Complications of Spinal Fusion With Harrington Rods
Complications of Spinal Fusion With Harrington Rods (Image: wikipost-op.jpg)

Harrington Rods are inserted along the spinal cord to provide structure and support to the spine while the vertebra fuse with bone grafts. There are many complications associated with Harrington rods and this article focuses on the flat back syndrome; a common side effect of life with Harrington rods.


The term spinal fusion refers to the process of fusing the vertebrae of the spine with bone graft fragments to immobilize abnormal curvatures of the spine such as scoliosis and kyphosis. Harrington rods are used in conjunction with bone grafts to provide stability to the spine while the vertebrae fuse. The rod or rods are secured into the vertebra with a system of hooks attached to the rod.


The immediate and most common complications associated with Harrington rods are stiffness, pain, hook migration and broken rods. More severe complications present years or even decades later. Flat back syndrome occurs when the lumbar portion of the spine is fused; it is "flattened" and the natural front to back curvature (lordosis) is lost. The patient can compensate for the flattening effect until the discs below the fusing degenerate. The person then has difficulty standing upright and experiences pain in the upper and lower portions of the spine. Approximately 40 percent of Harrington Rod sufferers have flat back syndrome.


Patients with flat back syndrome typically experience a myriad of symptoms including low back, groin and leg pain, inability to maintain erect posture, sciatica and spinal stenosis with leg pain that becomes worse as the day processes. The knees or legs are often bent in an attempt to obtain an upright posture, which becomes exhausting after long periods of activity. These symptoms may become disabling and limit the patient's ability to engage in routine activities. Often narcotic medication is prescribed to help individuals cope with pain and stiffness.


Closing wedge osteotomies are performed to re-establish a lordotic curvature. The surgery is extremely complex and complications are high. The surgeon removes sections of bone from the fusion mass to create a more natural spinal curvature. Dr. Michael LaGrone, a scoliosis specialist, says, "Despite the operation, 47 percent of patients continue to have symptoms of leaning forward and over 30 percent are left with moderate to severe back pain."

Do Your Research

It is essential to take the time to do research before having any procedure done. Spinal fusions are life changing and once you decide to fuse your spine, there's no turning back and reversing your fusion. Understand that spinal fusion does not always work well, and make the decision that is right for you and your family.

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