The purpose of this study was to evaluate the complications of anterior cervical corpectomy and arthrodesis in patients who had had a previous cervical laminectomy. The results of previous studies have suggested that these patients can be managed with anterior decompression and an arthrodesis with either plate fixation or immobilization in a halo vest. However, no studies that we are aware of have specifically focused on the complications of these types of procedures.

The records and radiographs of eighteen patients who had been managed with a one to four-level corpectomy with strut-grafting were retrospectively reviewed. The reviews were independently performed by the three of us who were not involved in the original operation. The interval between the laminectomy and the corpectomy ranged from one month to twenty-two years (mean, eight years).

Eleven of the eighteen patients sustained a total of sixteen complications during the follow-up period, which averaged 2.7 years (range, seven months to six years and four months), and nine of the eleven had graft-related complications. Five grafts extruded or collapsed, or both. There were four reoperations. Immobilization in a halo vest did not prevent extrusions, as three of the four extrusions occurred while the patient wore a halo vest. Four patients had a pseudarthrosis. In three patients, the kyphosis increased by 10 degrees or more from the immediate preoperative period to the most recent follow-up evaluation. Two patients had respiratory distress that necessitated reintubation, one patient had a small dural tear, and one had transient dysphagia.

Our data suggest that anterior cervical corpectomy without instrumentation in a patient who has had a previous laminectomy is associated with a great risk of graft-related complications despite the use of a halo vest. This previously unreported finding is relevant in that it contradicts the recommendation previously made by Zdeblick and the senior one of us, who advocated postoperative immobilization in a halo vest for these patients. Anterior cervical corpectomy should be performed with caution and knowledge of the potential complications in a patient who has had a previous laminectomy.