Facetal distraction as treatment for single- and multilevel cervical spondylotic radiculopathy and myelopathy

J Neurosurg Spine 14:689–696, 2011. DOI: 10.3171/2011.2.SPINE10601
The authors discuss their successful preliminary experience with 36 cases of cervical spondylotic disease by performing facetal distraction using specially designed Goel cervical facet spacers. The clinical and radiological results of treatment are analyzed. The mechanism of action of the proposed spacers and the rationale for their use are evaluated. Between 2006 and February 2010, 36 patients were treated using the proposed technique. Of these patients, 18 had multilevel and 18 had single-level cervical spondylotic radiculopathy and/or myelopathy. The average follow-up period was 17 months with a minimum of 6 months. The Japanese Orthopaedic Association classification system, visual analog scale (neck pain and radiculopathy), and Odom criteria were used to monitor the clinical status of the patient. The patients were prospectively analyzed. The technique of surgery involved wide opening of the facet joints, denuding of articular cartilage, distraction of facets, and forced impaction of Goel cervical facet spacers into the articular cavity. Additionally, the interspinous process ligaments were resected, and corticocancellous bone graft from the iliac crest was placed and was stabilized over the adjoining laminae and facets after adequately preparing the host bone. Eighteen patients underwent single-level, 6 patients underwent 2-level, and 12 patients underwent 3-level treatment. The alterations in the physical architecture of spine and canal dimensions were evaluated before and after the placement of intrafacet joint spacers and after at least 6 months of follow-up. All patients had varying degrees of relief from symptoms of pain, radiculopathy, and myelopathy. Analysis of radiological features suggested that the distraction of facets with the spacers resulted in an increase in the intervertebral foraminal dimension (mean 2.2 mm), an increase in the height of the intervertebral disc space (range 0.4–1.2 mm), and an increase in the interspinous distance (mean 2.2 mm). The circumferential distraction resulted in reduction in the buckling of the posterior longitudinal ligament and ligamentum flavum. The procedure ultimately resulted in segmental bone fusion. No patient worsened after treatment. There was no noticeable implant malfunction. During the follow-up period, all patients had evidence of segmental bone fusion. No patient underwent reexploration or further surgery of the neck. Distraction of the facets of the cervical vertebra can lead to remarkable and immediate stabilization-fixation of the spinal segment and increase in space for the spinal cord and roots. The procedure results in reversal of several pathological events related to spondylotic disease. The safe, firm, and secure stabilization at the fulcrum of cervical spinal movements provided a ground for segmental spinal arthrodesis. The immediate postoperative improvement and lasting recovery from symptoms suggest the validity of the procedure.