Cervical spondylotic myelopathy with severe axial neck pain: is anterior or posterior approach better?



The aim of this study was to determine whether multilevel anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) or posterior cervical laminectomy and fusion (PCLF) is superior for patients with cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM) and high preoperative neck pain.


This was a retrospective study of prospectively collected data using the Quality Outcomes Database (QOD) CSM module. Patients who received a subaxial fusion of 3 or 4 segments and had a visual analog scale (VAS) neck pain score of 7 or greater at baseline were included. The 3-, 12-, and 24-month outcomes were compared for patients undergoing ACDF with those undergoing PCLF.


Overall, 1141 patients with CSM were included in the database. Of these, 495 (43.4%) presented with severe neck pain (VAS score > 6). After applying inclusion and exclusion criteria, we compared 65 patients (54.6%) undergoing 3- and 4-level ACDF and 54 patients (45.4%) undergoing 3- and 4-level PCLF. Patients undergoing ACDF had worse Neck Disability Index scores at baseline (52.5 ± 15.9 vs 45.9 ± 16.8, p = 0.03) but similar neck pain (p > 0.05). Otherwise, the groups were well matched for the remaining baseline patient-reported outcomes. The rates of 24-month follow-up for ACDF and PCLF were similar (86.2% and 83.3%, respectively). At the 24-month follow-up, both groups demonstrated mean improvements in all outcomes, including neck pain (p < 0.05). In multivariable analyses, there was no significant difference in the degree of neck pain change, rate of neck pain improvement, rate of pain-free achievement, and rate of reaching minimal clinically important difference (MCID) in neck pain between the two groups (adjusted p > 0.05). However, ACDF was associated with a higher 24-month modified Japanese Orthopaedic Association scale (mJOA) score (β = 1.5 [95% CI 0.5-2.6], adjusted p = 0.01), higher EQ-5D score (β = 0.1 [95% CI 0.01-0.2], adjusted p = 0.04), and higher likelihood for return to baseline activities (OR 1.2 [95% CI 1.1-1.4], adjusted p = 0.002).


Severe neck pain is prevalent among patients undergoing surgery for CSM, affecting more than 40% of patients. Both ACDF and PCLF achieved comparable postoperative neck pain improvement 3, 12, and 24 months following 3- or 4-segment surgery for patients with CSM and severe neck pain. However, multilevel ACDF was associated with superior functional status, quality of life, and return to baseline activities at 24 months in multivariable adjusted analyses.





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Publication Info

Chan, Andrew K, Christopher I Shaffrey, Oren N Gottfried, Christine Park, Khoi D Than, Erica F Bisson, Mohamad Bydon, Anthony L Asher, et al. (2023). Cervical spondylotic myelopathy with severe axial neck pain: is anterior or posterior approach better?. Journal of neurosurgery. Spine, 38(1). pp. 42–55. 10.3171/2022.6.spine22110 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/27987.

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Christopher Ignatius Shaffrey

Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery

I have more than 25 years of experience treating patients of all ages with spinal disorders. I have had an interest in the management of spinal disorders since starting my medical education. I performed residencies in both orthopaedic surgery and neurosurgery to gain a comprehensive understanding of the entire range of spinal disorders. My goal has been to find innovative ways to manage the range of spinal conditions, straightforward to complex. I have a focus on managing patients with complex spinal disorders. My patient evaluation and management philosophy is to provide engaged, compassionate care that focuses on providing the simplest and least aggressive treatment option for a particular condition. In many cases, non-operative treatment options exist to improve a patient’s symptoms. I have been actively engaged in clinical research to find the best ways to manage spinal disorders in order to achieve better results with fewer complications.


Oren N Gottfried

Professor of Neurosurgery

I specialize in the surgical management of all complex cervical, thoracic, lumbar, or sacral spinal diseases by using minimally invasive as well as standard approaches for arthritis or degenerative disease, deformity, tumors, and trauma. I have a special interest in the treatment of thoracolumbar deformities, occipital-cervical problems, and in helping patients with complex spinal issues from previously unsuccessful surgery or recurrent disease.I listen to my patients to understand their symptoms and experiences so I can provide them with the information and education they need to manage their disease. I make sure my patients understand their treatment options, and what will work best for their individual condition. I treat all my patients with care and concern – just as I would treat my family. I am available to address my patients' concerns before and after surgery.  I aim to improve surgical outcomes for my patients and care of all spine patients with active research evaluating clinical and radiological results after spine surgery with multiple prospective databases. I am particularly interested in prevention of spinal deformity, infections, complications, and recurrent spinal disease. Also, I study whether patient specific variables including pelvic/sacral anatomy and sagittal spinal balance predict complications from spine surgery.


Khoi Duc Than

Professor of Neurosurgery

I chose to pursue neurosurgery as a career because of my fascination with the human nervous system. In medical school, I developed a keen interest in the diseases that afflict the brain and spine and gravitated towards the only field where I could help treat these diseases with my own hands. I focus on disorders of the spine where my first goal is to help patients avoid surgery if at all possible. If surgery is needed, I treat patients using the most advanced minimally invasive techniques available in order to minimize pain, blood loss, and hospital stay, while maximizing recovery, neurologic function, and quality of life. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I am an avid sports fan and love to eat. I try to stay physically fit by going to the gym and playing ice hockey.

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