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Effectiveness of Postoperative Wound Drains in One- and Two-Level Cervical Spine Fusions

Caroline E. Poorman, BA, Peter G. Passias, MD, Kristina M. Bianco, BA, Anthony Boniello, BS, Sun Yang, BS, Michael C. Gerling, MD

Division of Spinal Surgery, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, NYU Medical Center Hospital for Joint Diseases, NYU School of Medicine, New York, New York



Cervical drains have historically been used to avoid postoperative wound and respiratory complications such as excessive edema, hematoma, infection, re-intubation, delayed extubation, or respiratory distress. Recently, some surgeons have ceased using drains because they may prolong hospital stay, operative time, or patient discomfort. The objective of this retrospective case-control series is to investigate the effectiveness of postoperative drains following one- and two-level cervical fusions.


A chart review was conducted at a single institution from 2010-2013. Outcome measures included operative time, hospital stay, estimated blood loss and incidence of wound complications (infection, hematoma, edema, and complications with wound healing or evacuation), respiratory complications (delayed extubation, re-intubation, and respiratory treatment), and overall complications (wound complications, respiratory complications, dysphagia, and other complications). Statistical analyses including independent samples t-test, chi-square, analysis of covariance, and linear regression were used to compare patients who received a postoperative drain to those who did not.


The study population included 39 patients who received a postoperative drain and 42 patients who did not. There were no differences in demographics between the two groups. Patients with drains showed increased operative time (100.1 vs 69.3 min, p<0.001), hospital stay (38.9 vs. 31.7 hrs, p=0.021), and blood loss (62.7 vs 29.1 mL, p<0.001) compared to patients without drains. The frequency of wound complications, respiratory complications, and overall complications did not vary significantly between groups.

Conclusions/Level of Evidence

Cervical drains may not be necessary for patients undergoing one- and two-level cervical fusion. While there were no differences in incidence of complications between groups, patients treated with drains had significantly longer operative time and length of hospital stay. 

Clinical relevance

This could contribute to excessive costs for patients treated with drains, despite the lack of compelling evidence of the advantages of this treatment in the literature and in the current study.

Cervical wound drain, cervical spine fusion, Spine surgery, postoperative complications
Volume 8 Article 34