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

Object

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.

Methods

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.

Conclusions

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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Skeletal dysplasia involving the subaxial cervical spine

Report of two cases and review of the literature

Gregory P. Lekovic, Nitin R. Mariwalla, Eric M. Horn, Steven Chang, Harold L. Rekate and Nicholas Theodore

✓ Because skeletal dysplasias are primary disorders of bone, they have not been commonly understood as neurosurgical diseases. Nevertheless, neurosurgical complications are commonly encountered in many cases of dysplasia syndromes. The authors present two cases of skeletal dysplasia that caused overt instability of the cervical spine. One patient with a diagnosis of Gorham disease of the cervical spine was treated with prolonged fixation in a halo brace after an initial attempt at instrumentation with a posterior occiput–C4 fusion. The other patient, who at birth was identified to have camptomelic dysplasia, has been treated conservatively from the outset. Although these two patients presented with different disorders—in one patient adequate mature bone never formed and in the other patient progressive bone loss became apparent after a seemingly normal initial development—these cases demonstrate unequivocally that surgical options for fusion are ultimately limited by the quality of the underlying bone. In patients in whom the bone itself is inadequate for use as a substrate for fusion, there are currently limited treatment options. Future improvements in our understanding of chondrogenesis and ossification may lead to the design of superior methods of encouraging fusion in these patients; however, at the present time, long-term maintenance in a halo brace may, in fact, be the only treatment.

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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.