Surgical and Functional Outcomes After Multilevel Cervical Fusion for Degenerative Disc Disease Compared With Fusion for Radiculopathy: A Study of Workers’ Compensation Population

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Study Design.

Retrospective cohort comparative study.


To evaluate presurgical and surgical factors that affect return to work (RTW) status after multilevel cervical fusion, and to compare outcomes after multilevel cervical fusion for degenerative disc disease (DDD) versus radiculopathy.

Summary of Background Data.

Cervical fusion provides more than 90% of symptomatic relief for radiculopathy and myelopathy. However, cervical fusion for DDD without radiculopathy is considered controversial. In addition, multilevel fusion is associated with poorer surgical outcomes with increased levels fused.


Data of cervical comorbidities was collected from Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation for subjects with work-related injuries. The study population included subjects who underwent multilevel cervical fusion. Patients with radiculopathy or DDD were identified. Multivariate logistic regression was performed to identify factors that affect RTW status. Surgical and functional outcomes were compared between groups.


Stable RTW status within 3 years after multilevel cervical fusion was negatively affected by: fusion for DDD, age > 55 years, preoperative opioid use, initial psychological evaluation before surgery, injury-to-surgery > 2 years and instrumentation.


DDD group had lower rate of achieving stable RTW status (P= 0.0001) and RTW within 1 year of surgery (P= 0.0003) compared with radiculopathy group. DDD patients were less likely to have a stable RTW status [odds ratio, OR = 0.63 (0.50–0.79)] or RTW within 1 year after surgery [OR = 0.65 (0.52–0.82)].


DDD group had higher rate of opioid use (P= 0.001), and higher rate of disability after surgery (P= 0.002).


Multiple detriments affect stable RTW status after multilevel cervical fusion including DDD. DDD without radiculopathy was associated with lower RTW rates, less likelihood to return to work, higher disability, and higher opioid use after surgery. Multilevel cervical fusion for DDD may be counterproductive. Future studies should investigate further treatment options of DDD, and optimize patient selection criteria for surgical intervention.


Level of Evidence: 3

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