Complications of anterior cervical spine surgery: A systematic review of the literature

Timothy J. Yee, Kevin Swong, Paul Park*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


The anterior approach to the cervical spine is commonly utilized for a variety of degenerative, traumatic, neoplastic, and infectious indications. While many potential complications overlap with those of the posterior approach, the distinct anatomy of the anterior neck also presents a unique set of hazards. We performed a systematic review of the literature to assess the etiology, presentation, natural history, and management of these complications. Following the guidelines of the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA), a PubMed search was conducted to evaluate clinical studies and case reports of patients who suffered a complication of anterior cervical spine surgery. The search specifically included articles concerning adult human subjects, written in the English language, and published from 1989 to 2019. The PubMed search yielded 240 articles meeting our criteria. The overall rates of complications were as follows: dysphagia 5.3%, esophageal perforation 0.2%, recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy 1.3%, infection 1.2%, adjacent segment disease 8.1%, pseudarthrosis 2.0%, graft or hardware failure 2.1%, cerebrospinal fluid leak 0.5%, hematoma 1.0%, Horner syndrome 0.4%, C5 palsy 3.0%, vertebral artery injury 0.4%, and new or worsening neurological deficit 0.5%. Morbidity rates in anterior cervical spine surgery are low. Nevertheless, the unique anatomy of the anterior neck presents a wide variety of potential complications involving vascular, aerodigestive, neural, and osseous structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)302-322
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Spine Surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Anterior cervical
  • Complications
  • Corpectomy
  • Discectomy
  • Fusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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