Complications following posterior cervical decompression and fusion: A review of incidence, risk factors, and prevention strategies

Ryan K. Badiee, Rory Mayer, Brenton Pennicooke, Dean Chou, Praveen V. Mummaneni, Lee A. Tan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Posterior cervical decompression and fusion (PCF) is a common surgical technique used to treat various cervical spine pathologies. However, there are various complications associated with PCF that can negatively impact patient outcome. We performed a comprehensive literature review to identify the most common complications following PCF using PubMed, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and Google Scholar. The overall complication rates of PCF are estimated to range from about 15% to 25% in the current literature. The most common immediate complications include acute blood loss anemia, surgical site infection (SSI), C5 palsy, and incidental durotomy; the most common long-term complications include adjacent segment degeneration, junctional kyphosis, and pseudoarthrosis. Three principal mechanisms are thought to contribute to complications. First, higher number of fusion levels, obesity, and more complex pathologies can increase the invasiveness of the planned procedure, thus increase complications. Second, wound healing and arthrodesis may be impaired due to poor blood flow due to various patient factors such as smoking, diabetes, increased frailty, steroid use, and other medical comorbidities. Finally, increased biomechanical stress on the upper instrumented vertebra (UIV) and lowest instrumented vertebra (LIV) may predispose patient to chronic degeneration and result in adjacent level degeneration and/or junctional problems. Reducing the modifiable risk factors pre-operatively can decrease the overall complication rate. Neurologic deficits may be reduced with adequate intraoperative decompression of neural elements. SSI may be reduced with meticulous wound closure that minimizes dead space, drain placement, and the use of intra-wound antibiotics. Careful design of the fusion construct with consideration in spinal alignment and biomechanics can help to reduce the rate of junctional problems. Spine surgeons should be aware of these complications associated with PCF and the corresponding prevention strategies optimize patient outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-333
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Spine Surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2020


  • Complication
  • Posterior cervical decompression and fusion (PCF)
  • Prevention
  • Risk factors


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