I. Noordhoek, M. T. Koning, C. L. A. Vleggeert-Lankamp

February 2019, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 386 - 399 Review Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-018-5820-9

First Online: 17 November 2018


Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) has proven effective in treating radicular arm pain. Post-operatively, cervical spine stability is temporarily challenged, but data on bony fusion and speed of fusion are ambiguous; optimum evaluation method and criteria are debated.


To study bony fusion accomplishment and to obtain an overview of methods to evaluate fusion.


A literature search was performed in PubMed and Embase. Included studies had to report original data concerning 1- or 2-level ACDF with intervertebral device or bone graft, where bony fusion was assessed using CT scans or X-rays.


A total of 146 articles comprising 10,208 patients were included. Bony fusion was generally defined as “the presence of trabecular bridging” and/or “the absence of motion”. Fusion was accomplished in 90.1% of patients at the final follow-up. No gold standard for assessment could be derived from the results. Addition of plates and/or cages with screws resulted in slightly higher accomplishment of fusion, but differences were not clinically relevant. Eighteen studies correlated clinical outcome with bony fusion, and 3 found a significant correlation between accomplishment and better clinical outcome.


In approximately 90% of patients, bony fusion is accomplished one year after ACDF. As there is no generally accepted definition of bony fusion, different measuring techniques cannot be compared to a gold standard and it is impossible to determine the most accurate method. Variations in study design hamper conclusions on optimising the rate of bony fusion by choice of material and/or additives. Insufficient attention is paid to correlation between bony fusion and clinical outcome.

Graphical abstract

These slides can be retrieved from electronic supplementary material.[Figure not available: see fulltext.]

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