Postoperative C5 palsy is a common complication after cervical spine decompression surgery. However, the incidence, prognosis, and etiology of C5 palsy after anterior decompression with spinal fusion (ASF) have not yet been fully established. In the present study, we analyzed the clinical and radiological characteristics of patients who developed C5 palsy after ASF for cervical degenerative diseases. The cases of 199 consecutive patients who underwent ASF were analyzed to clarify the incidence of postoperative C5 palsy. We also evaluated the onset and prognosis of C5 palsy. The presence of high signal changes (HSCs) in the spinal cord was analyzed using T2-weighted magnetic resonance images. C5 palsy occurred in 17 patients (8.5%), and in 15 of them, the palsy developed after ASF of 3 or more levels. Among ten patients who had a manual muscle test (MMT) grade ≤2 at the onset, five patients showed incomplete or no recovery. Sixteen of the 17 C5 palsy patients presented neck and shoulder pain prior to the onset of muscle weakness. In the ten patients with a MMT grade ≤2 at the onset, nine patients showed HSCs at the C3–C4 and C4–C5 levels. The present findings demonstrate that, in most patients with severe C5 palsy after ASF, pre-existing asymptomatic damage of the anterior horn cells at C3–C4 and C4–C5 levels may participate in the development of motor weakness in combination with the nerve root lesions that occur subsequent to ASF. Thus, when patients with spinal cord lesions at C3–C4 and C4–C5 levels undergo multilevel ASF, we should be alert to the possible occurrence of postoperative C5 palsy.
C5 palsy Cervical spine Anterior surgery Decompression Fusion