No difference in reoperation rates for nonunions (operative nonunions) in posterior cervical fusions stopping at C7 versus T1/2: a cohort of 875 patients

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  • 1 The Permanente Medical Group, Sacramento, California;
  • | 2 Surgical Outcomes and Analysis, Kaiser Permanente, San Diego, California;
  • | 3 Southern California Permanente Medical Group, Downey, California; and
  • | 4 Southern California Permanente Medical Group, Los Angeles, California
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OBJECTIVE

The challenges of posterior cervical fusions (PCFs) at the cervicothoracic junction (CTJ) are widely known, including the development of adjacent-segment disease by stopping fusions at C7. One solution has been to cross the CTJ (T1/T2) rather than stopping at C7. This approach may have undue consequences, including increased reoperations for symptomatic nonunion (operative nonunion). The authors sought to investigate if there is a difference in operative nonunion in PCFs that stop at C7 versus T1/T2.

METHODS

A retrospective analysis identified patients from the authors’ spine registry (Kaiser Permanente) who underwent PCFs with caudal fusion levels at C7 and T1/T2. Demographics, diagnoses, operative times, lengths of stay, and reoperations were extracted from the registry. Operative nonunion was adjudicated via chart review. Patients were followed until validated operative nonunion, membership termination, death, or end of study (March 31, 2020). Descriptive statistics and 2-year crude incidence rates and 95% confidence intervals for operative nonunion for PCFs stopping at C7 or T1/T2 were reported. Time-dependent crude and adjusted multivariable Cox proportional hazards models were used to evaluate operative nonunion rates.

RESULTS

The authors identified 875 patients with PCFs (beginning at C3, C4, C5, or C6) stopping at either C7 (n = 470) or T1/T2 (n = 405) with a mean follow-up time of 4.6 ± 3.3 years and a mean time to operative nonunion of 0.9 ± 0.6 years. There were 17 operative nonunions, and, after adjustment for age at surgery and smoking status, the cumulative incidence rates were similar between constructs stopping at C7 and those that extended to T1/T2 (C7: 1.91% [95% CI 0.88%–3.60%]; T1/T2: 1.98% [95% CI 0.86%–3.85%]). In the crude model and model adjusted for age at surgery and smoking status, no difference in risk for constructs extended to T1/T2 compared to those stopping at C7 was found (adjusted HR 1.09 [95% CI 0.42–2.84], p = 0.86).

CONCLUSIONS

In one of the largest cohort of patients with PCFs stopping at C7 or T1/T2 with an average follow-up of > 4 years, the authors found no statistically significant difference in reoperation rates for symptomatic nonunion (operative nonunion). This finding shows that there is no added risk of operative nonunion by extending PCFs to T1/T2 or stopping at C7.

ABBREVIATIONS

ASA = American Society of Anesthesiologists; ASD = adjacent-segment disease; BMP = bone morphogenetic protein; CTJ = cervicothoracic junction; PCF = posterior cervical fusion.

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