Although the clinical outcomes following anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) surgery are generally good, 2 major complications are graft migration and nonunion. These complications have led some to advocate rigid internal fixation and/or cervical immobilization postoperatively. This paper examines a single-surgeon experience with single-level ACDF without use of plates or hard collars in patients with degenerative spondylosis in whom allograft was used as the fusion material.
The authors conducted a retrospective review of a prospective database of (Cloward-type) ACDF operations performed by the senior author (J.A.J.) between July 1996 and June 2005. Radiographic follow-up included static and flexion/extension radiographs obtained to assess fusion, focal and segmental kyphosis, and change in disc space height. At most recent follow-up, the patients' condition was evaluated by an independent physician examiner. The Odom criteria and Neck Disability Index (NDI) were used to assess outcome.
One hundred seventy patients underwent single-level ACDF for degenerative pathology during the study period. Their most common presenting symptoms were pain, weakness, and radiculopathy; 88% of patients noted ≥ 2 neurological complaints. The mean hospital stay was 1.76 days (range 0–36 days), and 3 patients (2%) had major immediate postoperative complications requiring reoperation. The mean duration of follow-up was 22 months (range 12–124 months). Radiographic evidence of fusion was present in 160 patients (94%). Seven patients (4%) showed radiographic evidence of pseudarthrosis, and graft migration was seen in 3 patients (2%). All patients had increases in focal kyphosis at the operated level on postoperative radiographs (mean −7.4°), although segmental alignment was preserved in 133 patients (78%). Mean change in disc space height was 36.5% (range 28–53%). At most recent clinical follow-up, 122 patients (72%) had no complaints referable to cervical disease and were able to carry out their activities of daily living without impairment. The mean postoperative NDI score was 3.2 (median 3, range 0–31).
Single-level ACDF without intraoperative plate placement or the use of a postoperative collar is an effective treatment for cervical spondylosis. Although there is evidence of focal kyphosis and loss of disc space height, radiographic evidence of fusion is comparable to that attained with plate fixation, and the rate of clinical improvement is high.