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Table of Contents    
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 64  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 90-96

Functional and radiological outcome in patients undergoing three level corpectomy for multi-level cervical spondylotic myelopathy and ossified posterior longitudinal ligament

Department of Neurological Sciences, Christian Medical College Hospital, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Web Publication11-Jan-2016

Correspondence Address:
Vedantam Rajshekhar
Department of Neurological Sciences, Christian Medical College Hospital, Vellore - 632 004, Tamil Nadu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0028-3886.173654

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 » Abstract 

Background: To review our experience with patients undergoing 3 level cervical central corpectomy (CC) with un-instrumented fibular autograft fusion.
Materials and Methods: This is a retrospective study, involving 33 patients with cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM) or ossified posterior longitudinal ligament (OPLL) who underwent a 3 level CC between 2002 and 2010. The patients were followed up clinically and radiologically. Their functional status was assessed using Nurick's grading system. Parameters such as intraoperative complications, segmental curvature of the cervical spine, graft subsidence, graft fusion and functional outcome of these patients were assessed.
Results: There was transient morbidity in 28.6% of patients, with no permanent morbidity or mortality. We obtained follow up in 29 patients (87.9%) with a mean duration of follow up of 65.1 months (range, 12 to 138 months). The mean difference of segmental cervical curvature on follow up was 3.600 and the average graft subsidence was 5.70 mm. We achieved a fusion rate of 90%. There was no instance of graft extrusion in our series. There was a significant improvement in the functional status of our patients (from Nurick grade 3.55 to 2.42; P = 0.0001), with no clinical deterioration in any patient.
Conclusions: Three level cervical corpectomy with un-instrumented fusion is a relatively safe surgery in experienced hands, and can achieve excellent clinical and radiological outcomes.

Keywords: Cervical; corpectomy; fibula; myelopathy; uninstrumented

How to cite this article:
Gupta A, Rajshekhar V. Functional and radiological outcome in patients undergoing three level corpectomy for multi-level cervical spondylotic myelopathy and ossified posterior longitudinal ligament. Neurol India 2016;64:90-6

How to cite this URL:
Gupta A, Rajshekhar V. Functional and radiological outcome in patients undergoing three level corpectomy for multi-level cervical spondylotic myelopathy and ossified posterior longitudinal ligament. Neurol India [serial online] 2016 [cited 2023 Sep 29];64:90-6. Available from:

 » Introduction Top

Surgical management of patients with long segment (greater than [>] 2 vertebral levels) multi-level cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM) or ossified posterior longitudinal ligament (OPLL) is challenging, especially if there is an associated cervical kyphosis. These patients mandate a ventral decompressive surgical procedure and a complex reconstruction of the cervical spine.[1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7],[8] Surgical outcomes following central corpectomy (CC) in this group of patients may differ from those with a shorter segment of compression.[9],[10] It is generally perceived that the outcomes are worse in this group of patients with an increase in surgical morbidity and a higher incidence of graft related complications. Hence, some authors have advocated avoidance of >2 level CC.[11],[12]

We have been routinely using uninstrumented CC for multi-level CSM and OPLL for the past two decades. We reviewed our experience with patients undergoing a 3 level CC.

 » Clinical materials and Methods Top

Patient population

We performed a retrospective analysis of all patients who underwent a three level CC for CSM or OPLL in the period 2002-2010. All patients were operated upon by the senior author (VR). This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of our institution (IRB Min no: 9443). There were 33 patients who underwent a three level CC, out of a total of 401 CC performed in our department during the same period (8.2%). Out of these patients, 31 were male (93.9%) and 2 were female (6.1%) patients. The mean age at presentation was 52.0 years (range, 32 to 65 years).

There was a preceding history of trauma in 3 patients (9.1%). All but one patient had features of myelopathy on presentation and there were 4 patients who had radicular pain in their upper limbs. 28 patients had sensory symptoms in the form of limb paresthesias and numbness, and 18 patients had complaints of urinary urgency. Neck pain was not a common symptom, and was present in only 7 of the patients. The mean duration of symptoms was 23.4 months (nearly two years), varying from as low as 2 months to as long as 120 months.

The functional status of all these patients was classified according to the Nurick grading scale,[13] and ranged from 0 (only radiculopathy) to grade 5 (bed ridden), with a mean preoperative Nurick grade of 3.55.

All patients underwent a three level CC with an autologous fibular graft without the use of any instrumentation. Thirty two of the 33 patients underwent a C4-6 corpectomy while one patient underwent a C5-7 corpectomy. In 19 patients (57.6%), the cervical cord compression was due to an ossified posterior longitudinal ligament, whereas the remaining patients either had a thickened posterior longitudinal ligament or vertebral body osteophytes causing cord compression.

Surgical technique

Patients were positioned supine with the head in skull traction and the neck in extension with a rolled up sheet under the shoulder. A longitudinal skin incision was made on the right side of the neck along the anterior border of the sternocleidomastoid. The prevertebral space was reached and the required disc spaces were identified with the help of intraoperative fluoroscopy. The intervening discoidectomies were done and the central 16 mm of the vertebral bodies were removed using rongeurs and drills. The posterior longitudinal ligament was excised in all patients. In some patients with OPLL densely adherent to the dura, the central part was “floated” off by sectioning it from the lateral, caudal and cranial parts of the OPLL. Mortises were made in the upper and lower vertebral bodies, and a fibular bone graft (obtained from the patient by the orthopedic surgeons during the same surgery) was fashioned to fit into the corpectomy defect. In the postoperative period, all patients were fitted with a Philadelphia cervical collar. The initial 10 patients were mobilized out of bed one week after surgery. But the later 23 patients were mobilized immediately after surgery. They were asked to wear the collar for six months postoperatively.

Radiographic evaluation

Plain lateral radiographs of the cervical spine were obtained in the preoperative period, in the immediate postoperative period (prior to discharge from the hospital) and at follow up. The following parameters were assessed on these radiographs:

  • Cervical curvature: On the preoperative radiograph, a straight line was drawn connecting the postero-inferior point of the C2 vertebral body to a similar point on the C7 vertebral body. If the posterior surface of the intervening vertebral bodies lay anteriorly to the line, then the spine was considered lordotic. If the posterior border of the intervening bodies just touched the line, then the spine was considered straight. If any of the vertebral bodies crossed the line, then the spine was labeled kyphotic [Figure 1]a
  • Cobb angle (segmental angle): Straight line was drawn parallel to the superior endplate of the superior most vertebra to be involved in the fusion (C4 vertebra for most of the cases and C5 vertebra for one). Another straight line was drawn parallel to the inferior endplate of the inferior most vertebral body involved in the fusion. The angle between these two lines was measured. The segmental angle was measured in the preoperative radiographs, in the immediate postoperative period and at follow up
  • Graft height: Lines were drawn at the superior endplate of superior vertebra and at the inferior endplate of the inferior vertebra. Another line was drawn connecting the mid-point of the two lines, which was considered as the graft height. This measurement was done in the immediate postoperative period as well as at follow up [Figure 1]b
  • Fusion of graft: The fusion of the graft was assessed on the follow up lateral radiographs of the cervical spine and was based upon the formation of trabeculae between the graft and the vertebral body. In the cases where there was a doubt about the fusion, we considered the graft as not being fused.
Figure 1: (a) Plain lateral radiograph of the cervical spine showing measurement of cervical curvature. Line drawn joining the postero-inferior points on the C2 and C7 vertebral bodies (b) Postoperative cervical spine radiograph showing the measurement of graft height

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Follow up

Clinical follow up was obtained for 29 patients (follow up rate 87.9%) with an average duration of follow up of 65.1 months (12 to 138 months). This was achieved through out-patient consultation, letters and telephonic interviews. However, as our patients were from far flung regions of the country and could not attend our clinic for the follow up, we had radiological follow up for only 20 patients (60.6%). The Nurick grade of patients was re-assessed at follow up, and if there was a change in grade of 1 or more, it was considered as significant improvement.

Statistical methods

Data were entered into an Excel spreadsheet (Microsoft Inc.) and analyzed using IBM SPSS statistics, version 20 (IBM Inc.). Student's t test was used to compare means. A P < 0.05 was considered to be significant.

 » Results Top

Duration of surgery

The mean duration of surgery was 3.2 hours (range, 2.5 hours to 4 hours).


Five out of 33 patients (15.2%) had an intraoperative CSF leak. These were managed using fascial grafts and gelatin sponge as well as lumbar subarachnoid drains as described in a previous publication.[14] There were no other major intraoperative complications.

Four patients had transient dysphagia postoperatively. Two of these patients had significant increase in the prevertebral shadow, which subsided with administration of steroids. One patient developed dyspnea and another patient developed respiratory arrest and subsequently pneumonia, requiring a tracheostomy. The patient later recovered and the tracheostomy was closed.

Two patients developed a C5 radicular involvement postoperatively, with one complaining of sensory loss over the C5 dermatome, and another developing a mild shoulder abduction weakness. Both these patients improved symptomatically during their stay in the hospital. There were no mortalities and no instances of graft extrusion in our series.

Cervical alignment and fusion

There was no preoperative radiograph available for one patient. Of the remaining, 21 patients (65.6%) had a lordotic cervical spine on the preoperative radiographs, while 7 patients had a straight cervical spine and 4 patients (12.5%) had a kyphotic cervical spine. Of the 20 patients for whom we had radiological follow up, 9 patients had a lordotic cervical spine curvature, and 9 and 2 patients had straight and kyphotic cervical spines, respectively. The follow up cervical spine curvatures of these patients are shown in [Table 1].
Table 1: Preoperative and follow-up cervical spine curvatures (number of patients; n=20)

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The table shows that 5 out of 12 patients (41.7%) developed straightening of a lordotic spine, but no patient with a preoperative lordotic spine developed kyphosis postoperatively. Of the 5 patients with a preoperative straight spine with follow up imaging, the curvature became lordotic in one patient (20%), remained straight in 3 (60%), while in one patient (20%) it became kyphotic.

The average segmental curvature of the cervical spine preoperatively was 11.400 ± 8.980 and in the immediate postoperative period was 4.260 ± 6.660 (difference of 7.140). On follow up radiographs (20 patients), the mean difference of the segmental curvature was 3.600. According to Carman et al.,[15] to reflect a true change in the segmental curvature, the change should be more than 100 [Figure 2] and [Figure 3].
Figure 2: Preoperative (a) and one year follow up (b) lateral radiographs of a 65 year old male who underwent a C4-6 corpectomy

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Figure 3: Preoperative (a) and follow up (b) lateral cervical spine radiographs of a 56 year old male, who had preservation of his cervical lordosis at follow up. He had improvement in his Nurick score from 3 to 2

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The average graft height in the immediate postoperative period was 87.15 mm (±16.90 mm), and the mean reduction in graft height at the follow up visit was 5.70 mm (±7.30 mm). Out of the 20 patients who had a follow up radiograph available, fusion of the fibular graft occurred in 18 patients, thus giving a fusion rate of 90%.

Follow up magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Follow up MRIs were obtained in 13 out of 33 patients (39.4%). In all these patients, there was good decompression of the cord [Figure 4] and [Figure 5].
Figure 4: Preoperative (a) and one year follow up (b) T2 weighted sagittal MRI of the cervical spine of the patient shown in Figure 2, showing a significant reduction in the cord compression and increase in the anterior subarachnoid space at the operated level. This patient had a dramatic functional improvement from Nurick grade 5 to 2

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Figure 5: Preoperative (a) and follow up (b) T2 weighted sagittal MRI of the cervical spine of a 4-year old male, who was Nurick grade 4 at presentation and improved to Nurick grade 2 at follow up

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Functional outcome

The mean preoperative Nurick grade was 3.55 and the mean follow-up Nurick grade was 2.42 (P = 0.0001). In calculation of the mean follow-up Nurick grade, we used the baseline-observation-carried-forward (BOCF) approach.[16] Hence in patients lost to follow up, we considered the follow-up Nurick grade to be same as their preoperative Nurick grade, thus giving a more accurate reflection of the treatment outcome. There were 5 patients who did not have any improvement in their Nurick score, although their neurological symptoms had improved. There was one patient who had deterioration in his Nurick grade from 3 to 4, but that was due to bilateral hip replacement that the patient underwent 2 years after our operation, thus requiring the support of a walking stick. Hence overall, there was no clinical deterioration documented in any of our patients. A comparison of the preoperative and follow up Nurick grades of the patients is summarized in [Table 2].
Table 2: Preoperative and follow-up Nurick grades (n=33)

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Most patients had improvement in their motor symptoms, with persistence of sensory symptoms. Also neck pain was documented in five patients at follow up, with one of them complaining of mild restriction of neck movements.

 » Discussion Top

Strategies for long level decompression

There have been a few studies published on long level corpectomies for CSM.[4],[9],[17],[18],[19],[20],[21] Saunders et al.,[20] documented a series of 4 level uninstrumented corpectomy. Fibular autografts [21] or even allografts [22] have been shown to be an effective means of long level arthrodesis in such surgeries. [Table 3] summarizes the outcomes in >2 level corpectomy published in literature.
Table 3: Results of multilevel corpectomy published in literature

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The long duration of surgery and consequently, the prolonged retraction of soft tissues in the neck has been one of the factors leading to the avoidance of long constructs. The prolonged retraction sometimes leads to an increase in the prevertebral swelling, which may or may not present clinically as dyspnea or dysphagia, requiring the use of steroids. This swelling has been found to be maximum at C2 level in patients undergoing corpectomy, and was maximal on the third or fourth postoperative day.[25] At the level of the corpectomy, the swelling was found to be maximum on the fifth postoperative day.[25] As a pre-emptive measure, elective ventilation for 24 hours has been proposed in the postoperative period.[26]

Edwards et al.,[11] suggested that long level laminoplasty was a better option than corpectomy for multi-level CSM. Others have suggested a “hybrid” CC wherein a CC is combined with an adjacent cervical discoidectomy and fusion. This would avoid the use of a long construct and its attendant problems.[27],[28],[29] Some surgeons prefer to do a posterior fusion in all patients undergoing >2 level CC.[30],[31] They believe that this would prevent acute graft extrusion.

Acute graft extrusion

Chances of acute graft extrusion are higher in longer level corpectomies. Wang et al.,[12] have shown graft displacement rates of 4.2% with one level corpectomy, 5.3% with two level corpectomy, 9.9% with three level corpectomy and 16.7% with four level corpectomy. Macdonald et al.,[19] analyzed a total of 36 patients undergoing multilevel cervical corpectomy and fibular allograft fusion. Their rate of graft migration was 11%, and the only predictive factor for it was the number of vertebral bodies involved. A rare complication of fibular grafting is a delayed fibular fracture,[32] which is primarily due to an osteoporotic bone allograft used from a common source. We have not come across any such complication in our experience. Titanium prostheses have been compared with fibular grafts for long level corpectomies, and have been shown to have less operative time and lower rate of dislodgement in the immediate postoperative period.[33] However, they have been associated with higher rates of reoperation.

Graft fusion

In an analysis of 126 patients undergoing multilevel discectomy and vertebrectomy,[34] the non-union rates were found to be 27% for autografts and 41% for the fibular allografts. Much higher fusion rates have been shown for strut grafts than multiple interbody grafting hence proving that the long level corpectomy is a better option than multilevel discectomy and fusion.[35] The median time for fusion of these grafts ranges from 85 to 90 days on an average, and it has been shown that the cephalad end fuses before the caudal end.[19] In our series, the fusion rate was 90%, which is comparable to the rates published in literature. Ikinega et al.,[24] published a case series of long level corpectomies with fibular grafts, using a one-screw technique and had a fusion rate of 85.1%.

Postoperative sagittal alignment

In a review of two and three level corpectomies with uninstrumented fusion using a fibular graft, a subsidence of 6-7 mm was seen, producing a loss of height rather than a kyphotic angulation.[36] A certain amount of settling is an integral part of a successful arthrodesis. Kyphotic changes at the fused segment may occur in patients undergoing one and two level corpectomies; however, this does not affect the functional outcome of these patients.[37] In our series, the mean difference in the segmental angle was 3.600 at follow up, which was not considered as a significant kyphotic change.[15]

Functional outcome

In CSM/OPLL patients, most studies have shown an overall improvement in the mean Nurick grade of patients undergoing CC.[8],[11],[13],[19],[23] Saunders et al.,[20] retrospectively analyzed 31 patients with CSM undergoing a four-level CC, and found an improvement of 1 Nurick grade or more in 80% of the patients. However in their study, they documented an overall morbidity rate of 38.7%, with the graft associated complication rate of 10%.

In our series, we noted an overall improvement in the mean Nurick grade by 1.13, which was of statistical significance. There was improvement in the functional status of patients who presented with a poor Nurick score initially (Nurick 4 or 5), with 9 out of 14 such patients (64.3%) returning to full time employment.


The limitations of this study were its retrospective design, invariably leading to a loss of follow- up for a few patients as well as variable follow-up durations. Appropriate radiographs were not available for a few patients included in the study, both preoperatively as well as on follow-up.

 » Conclusions Top

From our experience, we conclude that the three level un-instrumented corpectomy is a relatively safe surgery if performed by experienced surgeons. The surgical time is relatively short (average 3.2 hours). It avoids the additional morbidity associated with instrumentation or 360 degree fusion. Finally, it is economical as it avoids the financial burden of instrumentation. There was a significant improvement in the functional status of our patients, as shown by an improvement in the mean Nurick grade from 3.55 to 2.42. We have achieved a fusion rate of 90% with a transient morbidity rate of 28.6% and no permanent morbidity or mortality.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

 » References Top

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Banerji D, Acharya R, Behari S, Chhabra DK, Jain VK. Corpectomy for multi-level cervical spondylosis and ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament. Neurosurg Rev 1997;20:25-31.  Back to cited text no. 2
Eleraky MA, Llanos C, Sonntag VK. Cervical corpectomy: Report of 185 cases and review of the literature. J Neurosurg 1999;90(Suppl 1):35-41.  Back to cited text no. 3
Fraser JF, Härtl R. Anterior approaches to fusion of the cervical spine: A metaanalysis of fusion rates. J Neurosurg Spine 2007;6:298-303.  Back to cited text no. 4
Hanai K, Inouye Y, Kawai K, Tago K, Itoh Y. Anterior decompression for myelopathy resulting from ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament. J Bone Joint Surg Br 1982;64:561-4.  Back to cited text no. 5
Kalfas IH. Role of corpectomy in cervical spondylosis. Neurosurg Focus 2002;12:E11.  Back to cited text no. 6
Saunders RL, Bernini PM, Shirreffs TG Jr, Reeves AG. Central corpectomy for cervical spondylotic myelopathy: A consecutive series with long-term follow-up evaluation. J Neurosurg 1991;74:163-70.  Back to cited text no. 7
Williams KE, Paul R, Dewan Y. Functional outcome of corpectomy in cervical spondylotic myelopathy. Indian J Orthop 2009;43:205-9.  Back to cited text no. 8
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Chen Y, Yang L, Liu Y, Yang H, Wang X, Chen D. Surgical results and prognostic factors of anterior cervical corpectomy and fusion for ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament. PLoS One 2014;9:e102008.  Back to cited text no. 9
Vedantam A, Revanappa KK, Rajshekhar V. Changes in the range of motion of the cervical spine and adjacent segments at ≥24 months after uninstrumented corpectomy for cervical spondylotic myelopathy. Acta Neurochir (Wien) 2011;153:995-1001.  Back to cited text no. 10
Edwards CC 2nd, Heller JG, Murakami H. Corpectomy versus laminoplasty for multilevel cervical myelopathy: An independent matched-cohort analysis. Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 2002;27:1168-75.  Back to cited text no. 11
Wang JC, Hart RA, Emery SE, Bohlman HH. Graft migration or displacement after multilevel cervical corpectomy and strut grafting. Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 2003;28:1016-22.  Back to cited text no. 12
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Joseph V, Kumar GS, Rajshekhar V. Cerebrospinal fluid leak during cervical corpectomy for ossified posterior longitudinal ligament: Incidence, management, and outcome. Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 2009;34:491-4.  Back to cited text no. 14
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Liu-Seifert H, Zhang S, D'Souza D, Skljarevski V. A closer look at the baseline-observation-carried-forward (BOCF). Patient Prefer Adherence 2010;4:11-6.  Back to cited text no. 16
Bernard TN Jr, Whitecloud TS 3rd. Cervical spondylotic myelopathy and myeloradiculopathy. Anterior decompression and stabilization with autogenous fibula strut graft. Clin Orthop Relat Res 1987:149-60.  Back to cited text no. 17
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Macdonald RL, Fehlings MG, Tator CH, Lozano A, Fleming JR, Gentili F, et al. Multilevel anterior cervical corpectomy and fibular allograft fusion for cervical myelopathy. J Neurosurg 1997;86:990-7.  Back to cited text no. 19
Saunders RL, Pikus HJ, Ball P. Four-level cervical corpectomy. Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 1998;23:2455-61.  Back to cited text no. 20
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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]

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