A comparison of retraction pressure during anterior cervical plate surgery and cervical disc replacement: A cadaveric study

P. Justin Tortolani, Bryan W. Cunningham, Franco Vigna, Nianbin Hu, Candace M. Zorn, Paul C. McAfee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND CONTEXT: Dysphagia is a well-recognized complication after anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, observed in as high as 50% of cases by videofluoroscopic evaluation postoperatively. Esophageal injury due to surgical retraction is a complication due to which swallowing difficulties may ensue. There are limited published data evaluating the effect of soft tissue retraction on intraesophageal pressures during anterior cervical instrumentation procedures. PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to (a) measure the intraesophageal pressure secondary to retraction during anterior instrumentation, (b) determine whether any pressure differences exist between plating and cervical disc replacement, and (c) determine whether the surgical level or length of the plate influences the magnitude of intraesophageal pressure during retraction. STUDY DESIGN: An analysis of soft tissue retraction pressure was performed for anterior single-level and 3-level cervical plating and cervical disc replacement procedures. METHODS: Using a 4-cm transverse incision, a Smith-Robinson anterior approach to the cervical spine was performed on 7 fresh, frozen cadavers. The correct placement of an esophageal pressure-transducing catheter was confirmed by laryngoscopy, manual palpation of the esophagus, and fluoroscopic imaging. Three surgical instrumentation groups were used for comparisons: (a) single-level plate (b) single-level Porous Coated Motion cervical disc replacement, and (c) 3-level plate. Hand-held appendiceal retractors were used to retract the soft tissues during screw insertion into the plate and during application of the disc prosthesis into the interspace. Care was taken to exert just enough force on the retractors to allow the surgeon to move the desired implant into the correct position. In addition the individual performing the retraction was blinded to the procedure being performed-1-level plating, 3-level plating, or disk replacement. Fluoroscopy confirmed that the pressure sensors were directly behind the retractors during data acquisition. RESULTS: Significantly greater intraesophageal pressures were demonstrated for single-level cervical plating at C5-6 compared to that at C3-4 (P=0.036). Similarly, significantly greater pressures were recorded at C5-6 versus C3-4 for the 3-level plating group (P<0.001). In contrast, there was no statistically significant difference in pressures observed during disk replacement at C5-6 compared to that at C3-4 (P=0.084). Significantly greater pressures were recorded during single-level plating compared to disc replacement at both C3-4 (P=0.016) and C5-6 (P=0.016). Three-level plating demonstrated significantly greater pressures at C5-6 compared to disk replacement (P<0.001) but no statistically significant difference compared to disk replacement at C3-4 (P=0.333). The highest mean pressure, 154.5±49.5 mm Hg, was recorded at C5-6 level during insertion of the 3-level plates. CONCLUSIONS: On the basis of the data presented here, anterior cervical plating results in significantly greater intraesophageal pressures when performed at C5-6 compared to C3-4. This holds regardless of whether the plate spans the distance from C3 to C6 (3-level plate) or the single C5-6 level. In addition, the insertion of the cervical disc replacement seems to require less esophageal retraction and hence reduced intraesophageal pressures when compared to anterior cervical plating.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)312-317
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Spinal Disorders and Techniques
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 1 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Cervical disc replacement
  • Cervical plating
  • Esophagus
  • Pressure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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