Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion associated complications

Kostas N. Fountas, Eftychia Z. Kapsalaki, Leonidas G. Nikolakakos, Hugh F. Smisson, Kim W. Johnston, Arthur A. Grigorian, Gregory P. Lee, Joe S. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

693 Scopus citations


STUDY DESIGN. Retrospective review study with literature review. OBJECTIVE. The goal of our current study is to raise awareness on complications associated with anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) and their early detection and proper management. SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA. It is known that ACDF constitutes one of the most commonly performed spinal procedures. Its outcome is quite satisfactory in the majority of cases. However, occasional complications can become troublesome, and in rare circumstances, catastrophic. Although there are several case reports describing such complications, their rate of occurrence is generally underreported, and data regarding their exact incidence in large clinical series are lacking. Meticulous knowledge of potential intraoperative and postoperative ACDF-related complications is of paramount importance so as to avoid them whenever possible, as well as to successfully and safely manage them when they are inevitable. METHODS. In a retrospective study, 1015 patients undergoing first-time ACDF for cervical radiculopathy and/or myelopathy due to degenerative disc disease and/or cervical spondylosis were evaluated. A standard Smith-Robinson approach was used in all our patients, while an autologous or allograft was used, with or without a plate. Operative reports, hospital and outpatient clinic charts, and radiographic studies were reviewed for procedure-related complications. Mean follow-up time was 26.4 months. RESULTS. The mortality rate in our current series was 0.1% (1 of 1015 patients, death occurred secondary to an esophageal perforation). Our overall morbidity rate was 19.3% (196 of 1015 patients). The most common complication was the development of isolated postoperative dysphagia, which observed in 9.5% of our patients. Postoperative hematoma occurred in 5.6%, but required surgical intervention in only 2.4% of our cases. Symptomatic recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy occurred in 3.1% of our cases. Dural penetration occurred in 0.5%, esophageal perforation in 0.3%, worsening of preexisting myelopathy in 0.2%, Horner's syndrome in 0.1%, instrumentation backout in 0.1%, and superficial wound infection in 0.1% of our cases. CONCLUSION. Meticulous knowledge of the ACDF-associated complications allows for their proper management. Postoperative dysphagia, hematoma, and recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy were the most common complications in our series. Management of complications was successful in the vast majority of our cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2310-2317
Number of pages8
Issue number21
StatePublished - Oct 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Anterior
  • Cervical
  • Complication
  • Discectomy
  • Dysphagia
  • Hematoma
  • Recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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