Background: Gunshot wounds to the spine are devastating injuries. Rarely, the bullet has been reported to migrate. Migration is associated with progressive neurologic deficits that often improve with bullet removal. The authors report a case of removal of a migrating lumbar spine bullet. This is supplemented by an operative video and a review of the literature. Case Description: A 31-year-old man presented to the emergency department with multiple gunshot wounds and lower-extremity paresthesia. A ballistic injury occurred with an entry wound in the right posterior soft tissues, traversing the right paraspinal muscle and fracturing the left lumbar 5 pedicle and left lumbar 4 transverse process. The bullet was positioned within the spinal canal at the lumbar 3/4 interspace. His spinal injury was managed nonoperatively due to his traumatic injuries and findings of minimal neurologic deficit without cerebrospinal fluid leak. The patient returned to the neurosurgery clinic a year later and was found to have worsening low back pain, decreased sensation throughout the left leg, and radiating pain throughout the right leg. Imaging demonstrated the bullet had migrated caudally to the midlumbar 5 vertebral body. Given the patient's progressive symptoms and migration of the bullet fragment, informed consent was obtained for a laminectomy and removal of the intradural bullet fragment. Conclusions: Neurosurgical treatment for gunshot wounds remains controversial. Cauda equina or lumbosacral level wounds are often incomplete and may improve with surgical decompression and bullet removal. Migrating bullet fragments throughout the spine and brain lead to worsened neurologic function, which can be reversed by removal. Movement of the bullet during surgery should be expected, and intraoperative fluoroscopy and patient positioning can help to properly localize the bullet and aid in its removal.
- Gunshot wound
- Migrating bullet
- Spinal cord and nerve root injury
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology