Diagnosis and management of adult pyogenic osteomyelitis of the cervical spine

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Establishing the diagnosis of cervical osteomyelitis in a timely fashion is critical to prevent catastrophic neurological injury. In the modern imaging era, magnetic resonance imaging in particular has facilitated the diagnosis of cervical osteomyelitis, even before the onset of neurological signs or symptoms. Nevertheless, despite advancements in diagnosis, disagreement remains regarding appropriate surgical treatment. The role of instrumentation and type of graft material after cervical decompression remain controversial. The authors describe the epidemiological features, pathogenesis, and diagnostic evaluation, and the surgical and nonsurgical interventions that can be used to treat osteomyelitis of the cervical spine. They also review the current debate about the role of instrumentation in preventing spinal deformity after surgical decompression for cervical osteomyelitis. Based on this review, the authors conclude that nonsurgical therapy is appropriate if neurological signs or symptoms, instability, deformity, or spinal cord compression are absent. Surgical decompression, debridement, stabilization, and deformity correction are the goals once the decision to perform surgery has been made. The roles of autogenous graft, instrumentation, and allograft have not been clearly delineated with Class I data, but the authors believe that spinal stability and decompression override creating an environment that can be completely sterilized by antibiotic drugs.

Abbreviations used in this paper:CRP = C-reactive protein; CT = computerized tomography; ESR = erythrocyte sedimentation rate; MR = magnetic resonance; VB = vertebral body; WBC = white blood cell.

Establishing the diagnosis of cervical osteomyelitis in a timely fashion is critical to prevent catastrophic neurological injury. In the modern imaging era, magnetic resonance imaging in particular has facilitated the diagnosis of cervical osteomyelitis, even before the onset of neurological signs or symptoms. Nevertheless, despite advancements in diagnosis, disagreement remains regarding appropriate surgical treatment. The role of instrumentation and type of graft material after cervical decompression remain controversial. The authors describe the epidemiological features, pathogenesis, and diagnostic evaluation, and the surgical and nonsurgical interventions that can be used to treat osteomyelitis of the cervical spine. They also review the current debate about the role of instrumentation in preventing spinal deformity after surgical decompression for cervical osteomyelitis. Based on this review, the authors conclude that nonsurgical therapy is appropriate if neurological signs or symptoms, instability, deformity, or spinal cord compression are absent. Surgical decompression, debridement, stabilization, and deformity correction are the goals once the decision to perform surgery has been made. The roles of autogenous graft, instrumentation, and allograft have not been clearly delineated with Class I data, but the authors believe that spinal stability and decompression override creating an environment that can be completely sterilized by antibiotic drugs.

Abbreviations used in this paper:CRP = C-reactive protein; CT = computerized tomography; ESR = erythrocyte sedimentation rate; MR = magnetic resonance; VB = vertebral body; WBC = white blood cell.

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Address reprint requests to: Frank L. Acosta Jr., M.D., Department of Neurological Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, 505 Parnassus Avenue, Moffitt Hospital M779, Box 0112, San Francisco, California 94143. email: acostaf@neurosurg.ucsf.edu.
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