Edward Bayley, Bronek M. Boszczyk, Reuben Soh Chee Cheong, Abhishek Srivastava

January 2015, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 162 - 167 Grand Rounds Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-014-3398-4

First Online: 01 July 2014

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Major neurological deficit following anterior cervical decompression and fusion (ACDF) is a rare event, with incidences of up to 0.2 % now reported. Post-operative MRI is mandatory to assess for ongoing compression of the cord. In the past, the deficit has often been attributed to oedema or overzealous intra-operative manipulation of the cord. Reperfusion injury is a more recent concept. We describe a case of acute cervical disc prolapse with progressive neurology, and the difficult decision making one is faced with when the neurological deficit continues to deteriorate post ACDF.

Materials and methods

A 30-year-old male was referred from the Emergency Department with acute left arm paraesthesia and left leg weakness. A cerebrovascular accident was ruled-out with a CT of the brain, and later an MRI of the cervical spine revealed a large C6/7 disc prolapse with significant compression of the spinal cord. A C6/7 ACDF was performed, but post-operatively the patient could no longer move his lower limbs. An urgent MRI was obtained which showed removal of the disc fragment, cord signal changes and the suggestion of ongoing cord compression. In part, this was due to his narrow cervical canal. The decision was made to proceed to posterior decompression and stabilisation, although cord reperfusion injury was one of the differential diagnoses considered at this stage.


Post-operatively the patient’s neurology started to improve over the next 48 h. He was discharged from in-patient rehabilitation at 2 months post-surgery and by 3 months he had returned to work. Latest follow-up revealed normal function with only mild paraesthesia in the T1 dermatome of his left arm.


The management of patients in whom a neurological deficit has increased post-operatively is difficult. Urgent MRI scan is mandatory to assess for epidural haematoma which may need further decompression. Cord reperfusion injury is a diagnosis of exclusion. The difficulty the clinician faces is in interpreting the MRI for ‘acceptable’ decompression, and therefore excluding the need for further surgery.

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