Esophageal injury associated with anterior cervical spine surgery

Naresh P. Patel, W. Putnam Wolcott, J. Patrick Johnson, Helen Cambron, Marcial Lewin, Duncan McBride, Ulrich Batzdorf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Background: Anterior cervical spinal surgery has been used to treat a variety of conditions including spondylosis, fracture, tumor, infection, trauma, and instability. Esophageal perforation, a rare and unusual complication of anterior cervical procedures, has been largely relegated to only incidental case reports with few large retrospective studies performed to determine true incidence, treatment, etiology, and outcome. Methods: More than 3000 anterior cervical spine surgeries conducted over a 30-year period by 5 active practicing surgeons were reviewed. There were 3 cases of esophageal injury identified with subsequent critical evaluation to determine presentation, diagnosis, risk factors, management, and outcomes. In addition, incidence rates were calculated based on overall occurrence and antecedent risk factors. Results: Two of the patients with esophageal injury had predisposing risk factors, including diverticula or cervical spine trauma. The third patient had no antecedent risk factors. Symptoms included axial spine pain, odynophagia, dysphagia, purulent spondylitis, and sepsis. Treatment consisted of one or more of the following: reoperation with exploration and repair, esophageal diversion, esophageal rest, antibiotic administration, and wound drainage. Functional outcomes were achieved in all cases with no deaths. Conclusions: Esophageal injury incidence based on overall occurrence in this study was 0.1%. Patients with no antecedent risk factors had an incidence of 0.03%. Our results compare favorably with those of the Cervical Spine Research Society survey from 1989, which predicted an incidence of 0.25% based on questionnaires filed by surgeons, representing 1 of only 2 reports that included more than 1000 patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-24
Number of pages5
JournalSurgical Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • Anterior cervical spine surgery
  • Complications
  • Esophageal injury
  • Esophageal perforation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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