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Eric M. Horn, Iman Feiz-Erfan, Gregory P. Lekovic, Curtis A. Dickman, Volker K. H. Sonntag and Nicholas Theodore


Although rare, traumatic occipitoatlantal dislocation (OAD) injuries are associated with a high mortality rate. The authors evaluated the imaging and clinical factors that determined treatment and were predictive of outcomes, respectively, in survivors of this injury.


The medical records and imaging studies obtained in 33 patients with OAD were reviewed retrospectively. Clinical factors that predicted outcomes, especially neurological injury at presentation and imaging findings, were evaluated.

The most sensitive method for the diagnosis of OAD was the measurement of basion axial–basion dens interval on computed tomography (CT) scanning. Five patients with severe traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) were not treated and subsequently died. Of the 28 patients in whom treatment was performed, 23 underwent fusion and five were fitted with an external orthosis. Abnormal findings of the occipitoatlantal ligaments on magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, associated with no or questionable abnormalities on CT scanning, provided the rationale for nonoperative treatment. Of the 28 patients treated for their injuries, perioperative death occurred in five, three of whom had presented with severe neurological injuries. The mortality rate was highest in patients with a TBI at presentation. The mortality rate was lower in patients presenting with a spinal cord injury, but in this group there was a higher rate of persistent neurological deficits.


The spines in patients with CT-documented OAD are most likely unstable and need surgical fixation. In patients for whom CT findings are normal and MR imaging findings suggest marginal abnormalities, nonoperative treatment should be considered. The best predictors of outcome were severe brain or upper cervical injuries at initial presentation.

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Eric M. Horn, Nicholas Theodore, Iman Feiz-Erfan, Gregory P. Lekovic, Curtis A. Dickman and Volker K. H. Sonntag


The risk factors of halo fixation in elderly patients have never been analyzed. The authors therefore retrospectively reviewed data obtained in the treatment of such cases.


A discharge database was searched for patients 70 years of age or older who had undergone placement of a halo device. In a search of cases managed between April 1999 and February 2005, data pertaining to 53 patients (mean age 79.9 years [range 70–97 years]) met these criteria. Forty-one patients were treated for traumatic injuries. Ten patients had deficits ranging from radiculopathy to quadriparesis, and 43 had no neurological deficit. Adequate follow-up material was available in 42 patients (mean treatment duration 91 days). Halo immobilization was the only treatment in 21 patients, and adjunctive surgical fixation was undertaken in the other 21 patients. There were 31 complications in 22 patients: respiratory distress in four patients, dysphagia in six, and pin-related complications in 10. Eight patients died; in two of these cases, the cause of death was clearly unrelated to the halo brace. The other six patients died of respiratory failure and cardiovascular collapse (perioperative mortality rate 14%). Three patients who died had sustained acute trauma and three had undergone surgical stabilization.


External halo fixation can be used safely to treat cervical instability in elderly patients. The high complication rate in this population may reflect the significant incidence of underlying disease processes.

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Cervical magnetic resonance imaging abnormalities not predictive of cervical spine instability in traumatically injured patients

Invited submission from the Joint Section Meeting on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves, March 2004

Eric M. Horn, Gregory P. Lekovic, Iman Feiz-Erfan, Volker K. H. Sonntag and Nicholas Theodore

Object. Identifying instability of the cervical spine can be difficult in traumatically injured patients. The goal of this study was to determine whether cervical abnormalities demonstrated on magnetic resonance (MR) imaging are predictive of spinal instability.

Methods. Data in all patients admitted through the Level I trauma service at the authors' institution who had undergone cervical MR imaging were retrospectively reviewed. The reasons for MR imaging screening were neurological deficit, fracture, neck pain, and indeterminate clinical examination (for example, coma). Abnormal soft-tissue (prevertebral or paraspinal) findings on MR imaging were correlated with those revealed on computerized tomography (CT) scanning and plain and dynamic radiography to determine the presence/absence of cervical instability.

Of 6328 patients admitted through the trauma service, 314 underwent MR imaging of the cervical spine. Of 166 patients in whom CT scanning or radiography demonstrated normal findings, 70 had undergone MR imaging that revealed abnormal findings. Of these 70 patients, 23 underwent dynamic imaging, the findings of which were normal. In each case of cervical instability (65 patients) CT, radiographic, and MR imaging studies demonstrated abnormalities. Furthermore, there were 143 patients with abnormal CT or radiographic study findings, in 13 of whom MR imaging revealed normal findings. Six of the latter underwent dynamic testing, which demonstrated normal results.

Conclusions. Magnetic resonance imaging is sensitive to soft-tissue injuries of the cervical spine. When CT scanning and radiography detect no fractures or signs of instability, MR imaging does not help in determining cervical stability and may lead to unnecessary testing when not otherwise indicated.