Are we improving in the optimization of surgery for high-risk adult cervical spine deformity patients over time?



The aim of this study was to investigate whether surgery for high-risk patients is being optimized over time and if poor outcomes are being minimized.


Patients who underwent surgery for cervical deformity (CD) and were ≥ 18 years with baseline and 2-year data were stratified by year of surgery from 2013 to 2018. The cohort was divided into two groups based on when the surgery was performed. Patients in the early cohort underwent surgery between 2013 and 2015 and those in the recent cohort underwent surgery between 2016 and 2018. High-risk patients met at least 2 of the following criteria: 1) baseline C2-7 Cobb angle > 15°, mismatch between T1 slope and cervical lordosis ≥ 35°, C2-7 sagittal vertical axis > 4 cm, or chin-brow vertical angle > 25°; 2) age ≥ 70 years; 3) severe baseline frailty (Miller index); 4) Charlson Comorbidity Index (CCI) ≥ 1 SD above the mean; 5) three-column osteotomy as treatment; and 6) fusion > 10 levels or > 7 levels for elderly patients. The mean comparison analysis assessed differences between groups. Stepwise multivariable linear regression described associations between increasing year of surgery and complications.


Eighty-two CD patients met high-risk criteria (mean age 62.11 ± 10.87 years, 63.7% female, mean BMI 29.70 ± 8.16 kg/m2, and mean CCI 1.07 ± 1.45). The proportion of high-risk patients increased with time, with 41.8% of patients in the early cohort classified as high risk compared with 47.6% of patients in the recent cohort (p > 0.05). Recent high-risk patients were more likely to be female (p = 0.008), have a lower BMI (p = 0.038), and have a higher baseline CCI (p = 0.013). Surgically, high-risk patients in the recent cohort were more likely to undergo low-grade osteotomy (p = 0.003). By postoperative complications, recent high-risk patients were less likely to experience any postoperative adverse events overall (p = 0.020) or complications such as dysphagia (p = 0.045) at 2 years. Regression analysis revealed increasing year of surgery to be correlated with decreasing minor complication rates (p = 0.030), as well as lowered rates of distal junctional kyphosis by 2 years (p = 0.048).


Over time, high-risk CD patients have an increase in frequency and comorbidity rates but have demonstrated improved postoperative outcomes. These findings suggest that spine surgeons have improved over time in optimizing selection and reducing potential adverse events in high-risk patients.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Passias, Peter G, Peter S Tretiakov, Justin S Smith, Renaud Lafage, Bassel Diebo, Justin K Scheer, Robert K Eastlack, Alan H Daniels, et al. (2023). Are we improving in the optimization of surgery for high-risk adult cervical spine deformity patients over time?. Journal of neurosurgery. Spine. pp. 1–8. 10.3171/2023.5.spine23457 Retrieved from

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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.

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