Two hundred twenty-two cervical spine stabilization procedures in 212 patients are reviewed. In 114 posterior cervical fusions, 88 anterior fusions, and ten combined procedures, no deaths occurred. Surgical complication rates were similar, but more severe complications were noted with anterior cervical fusions, including tracheoesophageal problems and transient neurologic loss. Six cases of graft dislodgement requiring reoperation also occurred. In long-term follow-up evaluations, 36 anterior fusion patients developed progressive kyphotic deformity averaging 22[degrees] between surgery and the time solid fusion was obtained. Degenerative changes above and below the fusion mass were detected in 36 of 59 patients treated by anterior surgery. Posterior cervical fusion patients were noted to have no significant late change in alignment, and degenerative changes were infrequent. However, 73 of 98 patients had significant extension of fusion mass beyond the originally intended levels of stabilization. Because anterior cervical spine fusion was associated with significant complications of graft dislodgement and tracheoesophageal trauma, as well as postsurgical progressive deformity, the authors recommend posterior wiring and fusion as the procedure of choice to treat cervical spine instability and permit halo-free postsurgical rehabilitation. When anterior neural decompression and fusion is necessary, concomitant posterior wiring and fusion or halo vest immobilization may be necessary to maintain reduction and prevent kyphotic angulation, because posterior ligamentous disruption is not always grossly evident on radiographic examination.
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