Open reduction and internal fixation for angulated, unstable odontoid synchondrosis fractures in children: a safe alternative to halo fixation?

Report of 2 cases

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  • Neuro-Spine Program, Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery, Texas Children's Hospital, Department of Neurosurgery, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
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External orthosis is the accepted and historical management of odontoid synchondrosis fractures; however, this conservative therapy carries a significant complication and fracture nonunion rate among young children. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the authors' own experience in the context of the literature, to explore surgical fixation as a primary treatment for unstable fractures. The authors retrospectively reviewed 2 cases of unstable odontoid synchondrosis fractures treated at their institution; both showed radiographic progression of deformity and subsequently underwent an open surgical reduction and fusion. A literature review was conducted to compare the authors' management strategy with those in published data. External orthosis for treatment of odontoid synchondrosis fractures has a strong history of success. However, in the literature, patients treated with a halo orthosis had a 43.3% rate of complications and an 11.4% risk of nonunion. There are radiographic findings that suggest instability, such as severe angulation and displacement of the odontoid process. Both patients in the present report underwent successful fusion without complication, as documented on CT scans obtained 3 months after surgery. Given the high rate of fusion attained with conservative therapy, it is recommended for most synchondrosis fractures. However, there is a recognized subgroup of synchondrosis fractures with severe angulation (> 30°) and displacement suggestive of significant ligamentous injury. In these patients, surgical fixation may be a safe and efficacious alternative to halo orthosis as the primary treatment.

Abbreviations used in this paper: LCH = Langerhans cell histiocytosis; VB = vertebral body.

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Contributor Notes

Address correspondence to: Andrew Jea, M.D., Texas Children's Hospital, 6621 Fannin Street, CCC 1230.01, 12th Floor, Houston, Texas 77030. email: ahjea@texaschildrenshospital.org.

Please include this information when citing this paper: DOI: 10.3171/2011.10.PEDS11256.

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