Object. Stabilization of the cervicothoracic junction (CTJ) requires special attention to the operative approach and biomechanical requirements of the fixation construct. In this study the authors assess the morbidity associated with the anterior approach to the CTJ and define risks that may lead to construct failure after anterior CTJ surgery.
Methods. Data obtained for 14 patients (six men and eight women, mean age 50.1 years) who underwent surgical stabilization of the CTJ via an anterior cervical approach were retrospectively reviewed to assess the anterior approach—related morbidity and the risks of construct failure. The mean follow-up period was 21.1 months. Four patients (29%) had previously undergone CTJ surgery; in 11 patients (64%) more than one motion segment was involved (two levels, six patients; three levels, four patients; four levels, one patient); allograft was placed in three (21%) of 14 graft sites; and anterior plates were used for reconstruction augmentation in eight patients (57%). Postoperatively all patients improved, although four patients had residual deficits or pain. Graft/plate failure, requiring surgical revision and/or halo placement, occurred in five patients (36%). One patient experienced transient recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy. Postoperatively, the authors classified patients into one of two groups: those in whom surgery was successful (nine cases) and those in whom it had failed (five cases). Analysis of the characteristics of these two groups revealed that male sex (p < 0.0365), multiple levels of involvement (p < 0.0378), and the use of allograft as compared with autograft (p < 0.0088) were significant risk factors for construct failure. Prior CTJ surgery (p < 0.053) tended to be associated with graft failure.
Conclusions: Findings of this study, in the setting of these factors, indicate that anterior reconstruction alone may not meet the biomechanical needs of this spinal region and that supplementary fixation may be considered to augment stabilization for fusion success.