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Christopher D. Witiw, Nataliya Tsapenko and Vincent C. Traynelis


Axial neck pain is common and often debilitating. Diagnosis of the specific pain source can be a challenge, and this confounds effective treatment. Cervical facet arthropathy is implicated in many of these cases. The diagnosis is readily made on conventional cross-sectional imaging modalities, particularly CT imaging. However, this modality falls short in determining if an osteoarthritic facet joint is truly the source of symptoms. Radionucleotide imaging presents a noninvasive radiological adjunct to conventional cross-sectional imaging in the workup of patients with suspected facetogenic pain. Herein, the authors present the patient-reported outcomes (PROs) following posterior instrumented arthrodesis of the subaxial cervical spine from a consecutive case series of patients with a diagnosis of cervical facet joint arthropathy and a concordant positive radionucleotide tracer uptake.


The clinical case series of patients treated by the senior author at a single tertiary care institution between September 2014 and April 2018 was reviewed. Patients were selected for inclusion if their primary symptom at presentation was axial neck pain without neurological deficits and if CT imaging revealed facet arthropathy of the cervical spine. These patients underwent radionucleotide imaging in the form of a planar 99mTc methylene diphosphonate (99mTc MDP) bone scintigraphy study. Those with a finding of radionucleotide tracer uptake at a location concordant with the facet arthropathy were selected to undergo posterior cervical instrumented arthrodesis of the affected levels. PROs were recorded at the time of surgical consultation (i.e., after nonoperative treatment) and at 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year following surgery. These included neck and arm pain, the Neck Disability Index (NDI) and the 12-Item Short Form Health Survey responses.


A total of 11 patients were included in this retrospective case series. The average reported neck pain and NDI scores were high at baseline; 7.6 ± 2.3 and 37.1 ± 13.9 respectively. Twelve months after surgical intervention, a significant decrease in reported neck pain of −4.5 (95% CI −6.9, −2.1; p = 0.015) and a significant decrease in NDI of −20.0 (95% CI −29.4, −10.6; p = 0.014) was observed.


This case series represents the largest to date of patients undergoing surgical arthrodesis following a finding of facet arthropathy with a concordant positive radioisotope image study. These observations add support to a growing body of evidence that suggests the utility of radioisotope imaging for identification of a facetogenic pain generator in patients with primary axial neck pain and a finding of cervical facet arthropathy. These preliminary data should serve to promote future prospective, controlled studies on the incorporation of radionucleotide imaging into the workup of patients with suspected facetogenic pain of the cervical spine.