Long-term results of the NECK trial—implanting a disc prosthesis after cervical anterior discectomy cannot prevent adjacent segment disease

The Spine Journal 23 (2023) 350−360

Motion preserving anterior cervical disc arthroplasty (ACDA) in patients with cervical radiculopathy was introduced to prevent symptomatic adjacent segment disease as compared to anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF).

PURPOSE: To evaluate the long-term outcome in patients with cervical radiculopathy due to a herniated disc undergoing ACDA, ACDF or ACD (no cage, no plate) in terms of clinical outcome measured by the Neck Disability Index (NDI). Likewise, clinically relevant adjacent segment disease is assessed as a long-term result.

STUDY DESIGN: Double-blinded randomized controlled trial.

PATIENT SAMPLE: A total of 109 patients with one level herniated disc were randomized to one of the following treatments: ACDA, ACDF with intervertebral cage, ACD without cage.

OUTCOME MEASURES: Clinical outcome was measured by patients’ self-reported NDI, Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) neck pain, VAS arm pain, SF36, EQ-5D, perceived recovery and reoperation rate. Radiological outcome was assessed by radiographic cervical curvature and adjacent segment degeneration (ASD) parameters at baseline and up until five years after surgery.

METHODS: To account for the correlation between repeated measurements of the same individual Generalized Estimated Equations (GEE) were used to calculate treatment effects, expressed in difference in marginal mean values for NDI per treatment group.

RESULTS: Clinical outcome parameters were comparable in the ACDA and ACDF group, but significantly worse in the ACD group, though not reaching clinical relevance. Annual reoperation rate was 3.6% in the first two years after surgery, declined to 1.9% in the years thereafter. The number of reoperations for ASD was not lower in the ACDA group, while the number of reoperations at the index level was higher after ACD, when compared to ACDF and ACDA.

CONCLUSIONS: A persisting absence of clinical superiority was demonstrated for the cervical disc prosthesis five years after surgery. Specifically, clinically relevant adjacent level disease was not prevented by implanting a prosthesis. Single level ACD without implanting an intervertebral device provided worse clinical outcome, which was hypothesized to be caused by delayed fusion. This stresses the need for focusing on timely fusion in future research.