For COVID-19 vaccine updates, please review our information guide. For patient eligibility and scheduling availability, please visit

Does screw length for primary two-level ACDF influence pseudarthrosis risk?

TitleDoes screw length for primary two-level ACDF influence pseudarthrosis risk?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsLee NJ, Vulapalli M, Park P, Kim JS, Boddapati V, Mathew J, Amorosa LF, Sardar ZM, Lehman RA, K Riew D
JournalSpine J
Date Published2020 11

BACKGROUND CONTEXT: Pseudarthrosis remains a major complication for patients undergoing anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF; 0%-15% at 1-year follow-up). Potentially modifiable risk factors are known in literature, such as smoking and osteoporosis. Biomechanical studies suggest that plates with locking screws can enhance the fixation rigidity and pull-out strength. Although longer screws are known to be correlated with increased pull-out strength, deeper screw depths can increase the risk for intraoperative complications. An important factor that has yet to be studied is the minimum screw length relative to the diameter of the vertebral body (VB) necessary to achieve successful fusion. In this study, we hypothesize that screws with shorter depths relative to the VB will increase the risk for radiographic pseudarthrosis and result in poor patient reported outcomes (PROs).

PURPOSE: To examine the impact of ACDF screw length on pseudarthrosis risk.

STUDY DESIGN: A review of prospectively collected data.

PATIENT SAMPLE: A total of 85 patients were included in this study. The mean age ±standard deviation was 58.9±10.3 and 42.4% of patients were female. The mean follow-up was 21.6±8.3 months.

OUTCOME MEASURES: The neck disability index (NDI) was used to assess PROs up to 2-years after surgery. For each ACDF level, the screw length and VB% (screw length divided by the anterior-posterior VB diameter) were measured. Radiographic pseudarthrosis (interspinous motion [ISM] ≥1 mm) was recorded at 6-weeks, 6-months, and 1-year for each patient. The positive and negative predictive values (PPV, NPV) for ISM ≥ 1mm were measured for different VB% thresholds. A VB% of <75% was found to have the highest PPV (93%) and NPV (70%) for radiographic pseudarthrosis. This threshold of <75% was then assessed in our bivariate and multivariate analyses.

METHODS: We reviewed a database (2015-2018) of adult (≥18 years old) patients who underwent a primary two-level ACDF with or without corpectomy. All ACDF constructs involved fixed angle screws. The minimum follow-up period was 1 year. Multivariate analyses were performed to determine if screw VB% was an independent risk factor for radiographic pseudarthrosis.

RESULTS: By 1-year, overall fusion success was achieved in 92.9% of patients. The 1-year revision rate was 4.7%. Patients with any screw VB% <75% had substantially worse fusion success (64.3%) than those who did not (98.6%) at 1-year. The VB% <75% increased the risk for radiographic pseudarthrosis at every follow up period. In comparison to other time-points, patients with radiographic pseudarthrosis at 6 weeks had significantly worse NDI scores by 2-years (p=.047). The independent risk factors for radiographic pseudarthrosis at 6-weeks included any screw VB% <75% (OR 77, p<.001), prior/current smoker (OR 6.8, p=.024), and corpectomy (OR 0.1, p=.010). Patients with ISM≥1 mm had a higher rate of revision surgery at 1-year (5.9% vs. 3.9%), but this was not statistically significant (p=.656).

CONCLUSIONS: In primary two-level ACDF, VB% <75% is significantly associated with increased ISM (≥1 mm) at all time points for this study. As an intraoperative guide, spine surgeons can use the screw VB% threshold of <75% to avoid unnecessarily short screws. This threshold can be easily measured pre- and intraoperatively, and has been found to be strongly correlated to radiographic pseudarthrosis in the early postoperative period.

Alternate JournalSpine J
PubMed ID32673728