Dysphagia is a common complication of anterior surgery of the cervical spine. The incidence of post-operative dysphagia may be as high as 71% within the first two weeks after surgery, but gradually decreases during the following months. However, 12% to 14% of patients may have some persistent dysphagia one year after the procedure. It has been shown that female gender, advanced age, multilevel surgery, longer operating time and severe preoperative neck pain may be risk factors. Although the aetiology remains unclear and is probably multifactorial, proposed causes include oesophageal retraction, prominence of the cervical plate and prevertebral swelling. Recently, pre-operative tracheal traction exercises and the use of retropharyngeal steroids have been proposed as methods of reducing postoperative dysphagia.
We performed a systematic review to assess the incidence, aetiology, risk factors, methods of assessment and management of dysphagia following anterior cervical spinal surgery.