Rates of complications associated with the surgical treatment of cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM) are not clear. Appreciating these risks is important for patient counseling and quality improvement.

Although generally safe and effective, surgery for the treatment of cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM) is associated with complications in 11%-38% of patients.

Several predictors of postoperative complications have been proposed but few are used to detect high-risk patients. A standard approach to identifying “at-risk” patients would improve surgeons' ability to prevent and manage these complications.


Tetreault et al. aimed to compare the complication rates between various surgical procedures used to treat CSM and to identify patient-specific, clinical, imaging, and surgical predictors of complications.

The authors conducted a systematic review of the literature and searched MEDLINE, MEDLINE in Process, EMBASE, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials from 1948 to September 2013. Cohort studies designed to evaluate predictors of complications and intervention studies conducted to compare different surgical approaches were included. Each article was critically appraised independently by 2 reviewers, and the evidence was synthesized according to the principles outlined by the Grading of Recommendation Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) Working Group.

A total of 5472 citations were retrieved. Of those, 60 studies met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review. These studies included 36 prognostic cohort studies and 28 comparative intervention studies. High evidence suggests that older patients are at a greater risk of perioperative complications. Based on low evidence, other clinical factors such as body mass index, smoking status, duration of symptoms, and baseline severity score, are not predictive of complications. With respect to surgical factors, low to moderate evidence suggests that estimated blood loss, surgical approach, and number of levels do not affect rates of complications. A longer operative duration (moderate evidence), however, is predictive of perioperative complications and a 2-stage surgery is related to an increased risk of major complications (high evidence). In terms of surgical techniques, higher rates of neck pain were found in patients undergoing laminoplasty compared with anterior spinal fusion (moderate evidence). In addition, with respect to laminoplasty techniques, there was a lower incidence of C-5 palsy in laminoplasty with concurrent foraminotomy compared with nonforaminotomy (low evidence).

The current review suggests that older patients are at a higher risk of perioperative complications. A longer operative duration and a 2-stage surgery both reflect increased case complexity and can indirectly predict preoperative complications 1).


Data from the AOSpine North America Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy Study, a prospective, multicenter study, were analyzed. Outcomes data, including adverse events, were collected in a standardized manner and externally monitored. Rates of perioperative complications (within 30 days of surgery) and delayed complications (31 days to 2 years following surgery) were tabulated and stratified based on clinical factors.

The study enrolled 302 patients (mean age 57 years, range 29-86) years. Of 332 reported adverse events, 73 were classified as perioperative complications (25 major and 48 minor) in 47 patients (overall perioperative complication rate of 15.6%). The most common perioperative complications included minor cardiopulmonary events (3.0%), dysphagia (3.0%), and superficial wound infection (2.3%). Perioperative worsening of myelopathy was reported in 4 patients (1.3%). Based on 275 patients who completed 2 years of follow-up, there were 14 delayed complications (8 minor, 6 major) in 12 patients, for an overall delayed complication rate of 4.4%. Of patients treated with anterior-only (n = 176), posterior-only (n = 107), and combined anterior-posterior (n = 19) procedures, 11%, 19%, and 37%, respectively, had 1 or more perioperative complications. Compared with anterior-only approaches, posterior-only approaches had a higher rate of wound infection (0.6% vs 4.7%, p = 0.030). Dysphagia was more common with combined anterior-posterior procedures (21.1%) compared with anterior-only procedures (2.3%) or posterior-only procedures (0.9%) (p < 0.001). The incidence of C-5 radiculopathy was not associated with the surgical approach (p = 0.8). The occurrence of perioperative complications was associated with increased age (p = 0.006), combined anterior-posterior procedures (p = 0.016), increased operative time (p = 0.009), and increased operative blood loss (p = 0.005), but it was not associated with comorbidity score, body mass index, modified Japanese Orthopaedic Association score, smoking status, anterior-only versus posterior-only approach, or specific procedures. Multivariate analysis of factors associated with minor or major complications identified age (OR 1.029, 95% CI 1.002-1.057, p = 0.035) and operative time (OR 1.005, 95% CI 1.002-1.008, p = 0.001). Multivariate analysis of factors associated with major complications identified age (OR 1.054, 95% CI 1.015-1.094, p = 0.006) and combined anterior-posterior procedures (OR 5.297, 95% CI 1.626-17.256, p = 0.006).

For the surgical treatment of CSM, the vast majority of complications were treatable and without long-term impact. Multivariate factors associated with an increased risk of complications include greater age, increased operative time, and use of combined anterior-posterior procedures 2).

Tetreault L, Ibrahim A, Côté P, Singh A, Fehlings MG. A systematic review of clinical and surgical predictors of complications following surgery for degenerative cervical myelopathy. J Neurosurg Spine. 2016 Jan;24(1):77-99. doi: 10.3171/2015.3.SPINE14971. Epub 2015 Sep 25. PubMed PMID: 26407090.
Fehlings MG, Smith JS, Kopjar B, Arnold PM, Yoon ST, Vaccaro AR, Brodke DS, Janssen ME, Chapman JR, Sasso RC, Woodard EJ, Banco RJ, Massicotte EM, Dekutoski MB, Gokaslan ZL, Bono CM, Shaffrey CI. Perioperative and delayed complications associated with the surgical treatment of cervical spondylotic myelopathy based on 302 patients from the AOSpine North America Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy Study. J Neurosurg Spine. 2012 May;16(5):425-32. doi: 10.3171/2012.1.SPINE11467. PubMed PMID: 22324802.
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