The dismal outcome of tuberculosis of the spine in the pre-antibiotic era has improved significantly because of the use of potent antitubercular drugs, modern diagnostic aids and advances in surgical management. MRI allows the diagnosis of a tuberculous lesion, with a sensitivity of 100% and specificity of 88%, well before deformity develops. Neurological deficit and deformity are the worst complications of spinal tuberculosis. Patients treated conservatively show an increase in deformity of about 15°. In children, a kyphosis continues to increase with growth even after the lesion has healed. Tuberculosis of the spine is a medical disease which is not primarily treated surgically, but operation is required to prevent and treat the complications. Panvertebral lesions, therapeutically refractory disease, severe kyphosis, a developing neurological deficit, lack of improvement or deterioration are indications for surgery. Patients who present with a kyphosis of 60° or more, or one which is likely to progress, require anterior decompression, posterior shortening, posterior instrumented stabilisation and anterior and posterior bone grafting in the active stage of the disease. Late-onset paraplegia is best prevented rather than treated. The awareness and suspicion of an atypical presentation of spinal tuberculosis should be high in order to obtain a good outcome. Therapeutically refractory cases of tuberculosis of the spine are increasing in association with the presence of HIV and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.