Background: Anterior cervical diskectomy and fusion (ACDF) is a well-established surgical treatment for radiculopathy and myelopathy. Previous studies showed that empty PEEK cages have lower radiographic fusion rates, but the clinical relevance remains unclear. This paper's aim is to provide high-quality evidence on the outcomes of ACDF with empty PEEK cages and on the relevance of radiographic fusion for clinical outcomes.
Methods: This large prospective multicenter clinical trial performed single-level ACDF with empty PEEK cages on patients with cervical radiculopathy or myelopathy. The main clinical outcomes were VAS (0-10) for pain and NDI (0-100) for functioning. Radiographic fusion was evaluated by two investigators for three different aspects.
Results: The median (range) improvement of the VAS pain score was: 3 (1-6) at 6 months, 3 (2-8) at 12 months, and 4 (2-8) at 18 months. The median (range) improvement of the NDI score was: 12 (2-34) at 6 months, 18 (4-46) at 12 months, and 22 (2-44) at 18 months. Complete radiographic fusion was reached by 126 patients (43%) at 6 months, 214 patients (73%) at 12 months, and 241 patients (83%) at 18 months. Radiographic fusion was a highly significant (p < 0.001) predictor of the improvement of VAS and NDI scores.
Conclusion: This study provides strong evidence that ACDF is effective treatment, but the overall rate of radiographic fusion with empty PEEK cages is slow and insufficient. Lack of complete radiographic fusion leads to less improvement of pain and disability. We recommend against using empty uncoated pure PEEK cages in ACDF.
Trial registration: ISRCTN42774128. Retrospectively registered 14 April 2009.
Keywords: Anterior cervical diskectomy and fusion (ACDF); Cervical spine surgery; Clinical trial; Myelopathy; PEEK; Radiculopathy; Radiographic fusion; “Shell” cages.