Indications for anterior cervical decompression for the treatment of cervical degenerative radiculopathy

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Object

The objective of this systematic review was to use evidence-based medicine to identify the indications and utility of anterior cervical nerve root decompression.

Methods

The National Library of Medicine and Cochrane Database were queried using MeSH headings and key words relevant to surgical management of cervical radiculopathy. Abstracts were reviewed after which studies meeting inclusion criteria were selected. The guidelines group assembled an evidentiary table summarizing the quality of evidence (Classes I–III). Disagreements regarding the level of evidence were resolved through an expert consensus conference. The group formulated recommendations that contained the degree of strength based on the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines network. Validation was done through peer review by the Joint Guidelines Committee of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons/Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

Results

Anterior nerve root decompression via anterior cervical discectomy (ACD) with or without fusion for radiculopathy is associated with rapid relief (3–4 months) of arm/neck pain, weakness, and/or sensory loss compared with physical therapy (PT) or cervical collar immobilization. Anterior cervical discectomy and ACD with fusion (ACDF) are associated with longer term (12 months) improvement in certain motor functions compared to PT. Other rapid gains observed after anterior decompression (diminished pain, improved sensation, and improved strength in certain muscle groups) are also maintained over the course of 12 months. However, comparable clinical improvements with PT or cervical immobilization therapy are also present in these clinical modalities (Class I). Conflicting evidence exists as to the efficacy of anterior cervical foraminotomy with reported success rates of 52–99% but recurrent symptoms as high as 30% (Class III).

Conclusions

Anterior cervical discectomy, ACDF, and anterior cervical foraminotomy may improve cervical radicular symptoms. With regard to ACD and ACDF compared to PT or cervical immobilization, more rapid relief (within 3–4 months) may be seen with ACD or ACDF with maintenance of gains over the course of 12 months (Class I). Anterior cervical foraminotomy is associated with improvement in clinical function but the quality of data are weaker (Class III), and there is a wide range of efficacy (52–99%).

Abbreviations used in this paper: ACD = anterior cervical discectomy; ACDF = ACD with fusion; ACF = anterior cervical foraminotomy; ADL = activity of daily living; CCI = cervical collar immobilization; NDI = Neck Disability Index; PT = physical therapy; VAS = visual analog scale.
Article Information

Contributor Notes

Address correspondence to: Paul G. Matz, M.D., Neurosurgery and Neurology, LLC, 232 South Woods Mill Road, Chesterfield, Missouri 63017. email: matzpg@yahoo.com.
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