Background context: Multilevel fusions, the use of allograft bone, and smoking have been associated with an increased risk of nonunion after anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) procedures. Pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) stimulation has been shown to increase arthrodesis rates after lumbar spine fusion surgery, but there are minimal data concerning the effect of PEMF stimulation on cervical spine fusion.
Purpose: To determine the efficacy and safety of PEMF stimulation as an adjunct to arthrodesis after ACDF in patients with potential risk factors for nonunion.
Study design: A randomized, controlled, prospective multicenter clinical trial.
Patient sample: Three hundred and twenty-three patients with radiographic evidence (computed tomography-myelogram [CT-myelo] or magnetic resonance imaging [MRI]) of a compressed cervical nerve root and symptomatic radiculopathy appropriate to the compressed root that had failed to respond to nonoperative management were enrolled in the study. The patients were either smokers (more than one pack per day) and/or were undergoing multilevel fusions. All patients underwent ACDF using the Smith-Robinson technique. Allograft bone and an anterior cervical plate were used in all cases.
Outcome measures: Measurements were obtained preoperatively and at each postoperative interval and included neurologic assessment, visual analog scale (VAS) scores for shoulder/arm pain at rest and with activity, SF-12 scores, the neck disability index (NDI), and radiographs (anteroposterior, lateral, and flexion-extension views). Two orthopedic surgeons not otherwise affiliated with the study and blinded to treatment group evaluated the radiographs, as did a blinded radiologist. Adverse events were reported by all patients throughout the study to determine device safety.
Methods: Patients were randomly assigned to one of two groups: those receiving PEMF stimulation after surgery (PEMF group, 163 patients) and those not receiving PEMF stimulation (control group, 160 patients). Postoperative care was otherwise identical. Follow-up was carried out at 1, 2, 3, 6, and 12 months postoperatively.
Results: The PEMF and control groups were comparable with regard to age, gender, race, past medical history, smoking status, and litigation status. Both groups were also comparable in terms of baseline diagnosis (herniated disc, spondylosis, or both) and number of levels operated (one, two, three, or four). At 6 months postoperatively, the PEMF group had a significantly higher fusion rate than the control group (83.6% vs. 68.6%, p=.0065). At 12 months after surgery, the stimulated group had a fusion rate of 92.8% compared with 86.7% for the control group (p=.1129). There were no significant differences between the PEMF and control groups with regard to VAS pain scores, NDI, or SF-12 scores at 6 or 12 months. No significant differences were found in the incidence of adverse events in the groups.
Conclusions: This is the first randomized, controlled trial that analyzes the effects of PEMF stimulation on cervical spine fusion. PEMF stimulation significantly improved the fusion rate at 6 months postoperatively in patients undergoing ACDF with an allograft and an anterior cervical plate, the eligibility criteria being patients who were smokers or had undergone multilevel cervical fusion. At 12 months postoperatively, however, the fusion rate for PEMF patients was not significantly different from that of the control group. There were no differences in the incidence of adverse events in the two groups, indicating that the use of PEMF stimulation is safe in this clinical setting.