Object. The authors performed a prospective study to determine whether cervical laminectomy without simultaneous fusion results in spinal instability.
Methods. Because of clinical and radiographic signs of cord compression, 15 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (including one with Bechterew's disease) and severe involvement of the cervical spine underwent decompressive laminectomy without fusion performed on one or more levels. Preoperative flexion—extension radiographs demonstrated dislocation but no signs of instability at the level of cord compression.
Clinical and radiological reexamination were performed twice at a median of 15 months (6–24 months) and 43 months (28–72 months) postoperatively. One patient developed severe vertical translocation 28 months after undergoing a C-1 laminectomy, which led to sudden tetraplegia. She required reoperation in which posterior fusion was performed. No signs of additional instability at the operated levels were found in the remaining 14 patients. In three patients increased but stable dislocation was demonstrated. The results of clinical examination were favorable in most patients, with improvement of neurological symptoms and less pain.
Conclusions. The authors conclude that decompressive laminectomy in which the facet joints are preserved can be performed in the rheumatoid arthritis-affected cervical spine in selected patients in whom signs of cord compression are demonstrated, but in whom radiographic and preoperative signs of instability are not. Performing a simultaneous fusion procedure does not always appear necessary. Vertical translocation must be detected early, and if present, a C-1 laminectomy should be followed by occipitocervical fusion.