Odontoid synchondrosis fractures in children

Daniel R. Fassett M.D., M.B.A., Todd McCall M.D., and Douglas L. Brockmeyer M.D.
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  • Department of Neurosurgery, Primary Children's Medical Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah
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Object

Odontoid synchondrosis fractures, although rare in the overall incidence of spinal trauma, are one of the more common fractures in young children. The goal of this study was to evaluate the demographic data, incidence of neurological deficits, treatment strategies, and outcomes in a combined series of odontoid synchondrosis fractures treated at the authors' institution and reported in other series.

Methods

In a retrospective chart review, the authors identified four odontoid synchondrosis fractures treated at their hospital since January 2000; these were combined with cases reported in six other series in the literature, yielding a total of 55 patients. Data regarding the patients' age, sex, delayed diagnosis, odontoid displacement, neurological deficits, treatment, and fusion status were collected.

The patients' ages ranged from 9 months to 7 years (mean 2.8 years), with neither sex predominating. Diagnosis was delayed in eight cases. The orientation of the odontoid fracture was reported for 36 patients, with 94% experiencing anterior displacement. Spinal cord injury (SCI) was noted in 15 patients, including 11 with complete injuries and eight with SCI at the cervicothoracic junction. Forty-two (93%) of 45 patients with fractures initially treated with external immobilization attained fusion. Eight patients were treated with surgery; four initially, with no attempt at conservative therapy, three after failed halo immobilization, and one after nonunion because of delayed diagnosis.

Conclusions

Odontoid synchondrosis fractures can be difficult to diagnose. In children younger than 7 years of age who present with neck pain or neurological deficits attributable to SCI, this fracture should be suspected. Given the high rate of fusion attained with conservative therapy, it is recommended for most synchondrosis fractures, although surgery may be warranted for individual cases.

Abbreviations used in this paper:

CT = computerized tomography; MR = magnetic resonance; SCI = spinal cord injury.

Object

Odontoid synchondrosis fractures, although rare in the overall incidence of spinal trauma, are one of the more common fractures in young children. The goal of this study was to evaluate the demographic data, incidence of neurological deficits, treatment strategies, and outcomes in a combined series of odontoid synchondrosis fractures treated at the authors' institution and reported in other series.

Methods

In a retrospective chart review, the authors identified four odontoid synchondrosis fractures treated at their hospital since January 2000; these were combined with cases reported in six other series in the literature, yielding a total of 55 patients. Data regarding the patients' age, sex, delayed diagnosis, odontoid displacement, neurological deficits, treatment, and fusion status were collected.

The patients' ages ranged from 9 months to 7 years (mean 2.8 years), with neither sex predominating. Diagnosis was delayed in eight cases. The orientation of the odontoid fracture was reported for 36 patients, with 94% experiencing anterior displacement. Spinal cord injury (SCI) was noted in 15 patients, including 11 with complete injuries and eight with SCI at the cervicothoracic junction. Forty-two (93%) of 45 patients with fractures initially treated with external immobilization attained fusion. Eight patients were treated with surgery; four initially, with no attempt at conservative therapy, three after failed halo immobilization, and one after nonunion because of delayed diagnosis.

Conclusions

Odontoid synchondrosis fractures can be difficult to diagnose. In children younger than 7 years of age who present with neck pain or neurological deficits attributable to SCI, this fracture should be suspected. Given the high rate of fusion attained with conservative therapy, it is recommended for most synchondrosis fractures, although surgery may be warranted for individual cases.

Abbreviations used in this paper:

CT = computerized tomography; MR = magnetic resonance; SCI = spinal cord injury.

Contributor Notes

Address reprint requests to: Douglas Brockmeyer, M.D., Department of Neurosurgery, Primary Children's Medical Center, University of Utah, 100 North Medical Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah 84113. email: douglas.brockmeyer@hsc.utah.edu.

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