Diagnosis and management of atlantoaxial rotatory subluxation (AARS) is challenging because of its variability in clinical presentation. Although several treatment modalities have been employed, there remains no consensus on the most appropriate therapy. The authors explore this issue in their 9-year series on AARS.
Records of patients diagnosed radiologically and clinically with AARS between May 2001 and March 2010 were retrospectively reviewed. Of 40 patients identified, 24 were male and were on average 8.5 years of age (range 15 months–16 years). Causes of AARS included trauma, congenital abnormalities, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, infection, postsurgical event, and cryptogenic disease. Four patients had dual etiologies. Symptom duration varied: 29 patients had symptoms for less than 4 weeks, 5 patients had symptoms between 1 and 3 months, and 6 patients had symptoms for 3 months or more.
Treatment with a cervical collar was sufficient in 21 patients. In 1 patient collar management failed and halter traction was used to reduce the subluxation. Seven patients underwent initial halter traction, but in 4 the subluxation progressed and the patients required halo traction. A halo vest was placed in 2 patients on presentation because the rotatory subluxation was severe; both patients required subsequent operative fusion. One patient required decompression and fusion due to severe canal compromise and myelopathy. All patients requiring fusion presented with subacute symptoms.
Management of AARS varies due to the spectrum of clinical presentations. Patients presenting acutely without neurological deficits can likely undergo collar therapy; those in whom the subluxation cannot be reduced or who present with a neurological deficit may require traction and/or surgical fixation. Patients presenting subacutely may be more prone to requiring operative intervention.