South African Journal of Surgery
On-line version ISSN 2078-5151
BACKGROUND: Cervical spine injured patients often require prolonged ventilatory support due to intercostal paralysis and recurrent chest infections. This may necessitate tracheotomy. Concern exists around increased complications when anterior cervical spine surgery and tracheotomies are performed. OBJECTIVE: The primary aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of tracheostomy in anterior cervical surgery patients in term of complications. In addition, the aetiology of trauma and incidence of anterior surgery and ventilation in this patient group was assessed. METHODS: Patients undergoing anterior cervical surgery and requiring ventilation were identified from the unit's prospectively maintained database. These patients were further sub-divided into whether they had a tracheotomy or not. The aetiology of injury and incidence of complications were noted both from the database and a case note review. RESULTS: Of the 1829 admissions over an 8.5 year period, 444 underwent anterior cervical surgery. Of the 112 that required ventilation, 72 underwent tracheotomy. Motor vehicle accidents, followed by falls, were the most frequent cause of injury. There was a bimodal incidence of tracheostomy insertion, the day of spine surgery and 6-8 days later. There was no difference in the general complication rate between the two groups. With regards to specific complications attributable to the surgical approach/tracheotomy, there was no statistically significant difference. The timing of the tracheotomy also had no effect on complication rate. Although the complications occurred mostly in the formal insertion group as opposed to the percutaneous insertion group, this was most likely due to selection bias. CONCLUSION: Anterior cervical surgery and subsequent tracheostomy are safe despite the intuitive concerns. Timing does not affect the incidence of complications and there is no reason to delay the insertion of the tracheostomy. Ventilation in general is associated with increased complications rather than the tracheostomy tube per se.