We reviewed the results of acute management of patients who had sustained a dural tear during an operation on the lumbar spine, and we attempted to determine the long-term sequelae of this complication. In the five years from July 1989 to July 1994, 641 consecutive patients had a decompression of the lumbar spine, performed by the senior one of us; of these patients, eighty-eight (14 percent) sustained a dural tear, which was repaired during the operation. The duration of follow-up ranged from two to eight years (average, 4.3 years). Postoperative management consisted of closed suction wound drainage for an average of 2.1 days and bed rest for an average of 2.9 days. Of the eighty-eight procedures that resulted in a dural tear, forty-five were revisions; these revisions were performed after an average of 2.2 previous operations on the lumbar spine, all of which resulted in a scar adherent to the dura. Only eight patients had headaches related to the spinal procedure and photophobia in the postoperative period; these symptoms resolved in all but two patients, both of whom had had a revision operation. Each of the two patients had symptoms of a persistent leak of spinal fluid and needed a reoperation for repair. Overall, seventy-six patients had a good or excellent result and twelve had a poor or satisfactory result with some residual back pain. One patient had arachnoiditis, and another had symptoms of viral meningitis one month postoperatively. A dural tear that occurs during an operation on the lumbar spine can be treated successfully with primary repair followed by bed rest. Such a tear does not appear to have any long-term deleterious effects or to increase the risk of postoperative infection, neural damage, or arachnoiditis. Closed suction wound drainage does not seem to aggravate the leak and can be used safely in the presence of a dural repair.

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