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Rudolph J. Schrot, Jesna S. Mathew, Yueju Li, Laurel Beckett, Hyun W. Bae and Kee D. Kim

Object

The authors analyzed headache relief after anterior cervical discectomy. Headache may be relieved after anterior cervical discectomy, but the mechanism is unknown. If headaches were directly referred from upper cervical pathology, more headache relief would be expected from surgery performed at higher cervical levels. If spinal kinesthetics were the mechanism, then headache relief may differ between arthroplasty and fusion. Headache relief after anterior cervical discectomy was quantified by the operated disc level and by the method of operation (arthroplasty vs arthrodesis).

Methods

The authors performed a post hoc analysis of an artificial disc trial. Data on headache pain were extracted from the Neck Disability Index (NDI) questionnaire.

Results

A total of 260 patients underwent single-level arthroplasty or arthodesis. Preoperatively, 52% reported NDI headache scores of 3 or greater, compared with only 13%–17% postoperatively. The model-based mean NDI headache score at baseline was 2.5 (95% CI 2.3–2.7) and was reduced by 1.3 points after surgery (95% CI 1.2–1.4, p < 0.001). Higher cervical levels were associated with a greater degree of preoperative headache, but there was no association with headache relief. There was no significant difference in headache relief between arthroplasty and arthrodesis.

Conclusions

Most patients with symptomatic cervical spondylosis have headache as a preoperative symptom (88%). Anterior cervical discectomy with both arthroplasty and arthrodesis is associated with a durable decrease in headache. Headache relief is not related to the level of operation. The mechanism for headache reduction remains unclear.