Distal Junctional Failure Following Pediatric Spinal Fusion

Lorena V. Floccari, Alvin W. Su, Amy L. McIntosh, Karl Rathjen, William J. Shaughnessy, Noelle N. Larson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Adjacent segment pathology is a known complication after spinal fusion, but little has been reported on junctional failure. A series of adolescent patients presented with acute distal junctional failure (DJF). We sought to determine any common features of these patients to develop a prevention strategy. Methods: A retrospective review was conducted of pediatric patients who developed DJF after instrumented spinal fusion performed at 2 institutions from 1999 to 2013. Patients with proximal junctional failure or junctional kyphosis without failure were excluded. Results: Fifteen subjects were identified with mean follow-up of 38 months. Distal failure occurred a mean of 60 days after index surgery, with history of minor trauma in 4 patients. Failures included 3-column Chance fracture (11) or instrumentation failure (4). Thirteen patients presented with back pain and/or acute kyphosis, whereas 2 asymptomatic patients presented with healed fractures. Two patients also developed new onset of severe lower extremity neurological deficit after fracture, which improved but never resolved after revision. A total of 13/15 subjects required revision surgery, typically within 1 week. Complications associated with revision surgery were encountered in 8 patients (62%). Major complications that required return to the operating room included 2 deep infections, 2 instrumentation failures, and dense lower extremity paralysis that improved after medial screw revision and decompression. At final follow-up, 10 patients are asymptomatic, 2 have persistent neurological deficit, 2 have chronic pain, and 1 has altered gait with gait aid requirement. Conclusions: This study analyzes a heterogenous cohort of spinal fusion patients who developed DJF from 3-column Chance fracture or instrumentation failure. Revision surgery is typically required, but has a high complication rate and can result in severe neurological deficit, highlighting the morbidity of this complication. It is unclear whether level of the lowest instrumented vertebra contributes to DJF. Increased awareness of junctional failure in children may prompt additional studies to further characterize risk factors and preventative strategies. Level of Evidence: Level IV-study-Type case series.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)202-208
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Pediatric Orthopaedics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019


  • complication
  • distal junctional failure
  • pediatric spinal fusion
  • spine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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