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Danica R. Kindrachuk and Daryl R. Fourney


The Saskatchewan Spine Pathway (SSP) was introduced to improve quality and access to care for patients with low-back and leg pain in the province. There is very limited data regarding the efficacy of nonsurgeon triage of surgical referrals. The objective of this early implementation study was to determine how the SSP affects utilization of MRI and spine surgery.


The authors performed a retrospective analysis of 87 consecutive patients with low-back and leg pain who were initially referred to a spine surgeon but were instead redirected to the SSP clinic between May 1, 2011, and November 30, 2011. The SSP clinic triaged patients into 2 groups: Group A (nonsurgical management) and Group B (referred back to the spine surgeon). The SSP classification was modified from the classification proposed by Hall et al. Pain and disability were scored by pain-related visual analog scale, modified Oswestry Disability Index, and EuroQol-5D.


Sixty-two patients (Group A, 71.3%) were discharged after patient education, self-care advice, and/or referral for additional mechanical therapies. Although only 25 patients (Group B, 28.7%) were directed back to the surgeon, the final percentage (12.6%) offered surgery was similar to that of historic controls (15%). Total MRI utilization was significantly lower in Group A (25.8%) than Group B (92.0%) (p < 0.0001). Nonsurgeon triage captured all red flags detected by the surgeon. Patients in Group B were much more likely to have a leg-dominant pain (p = 0.0088) and had significantly higher Oswestry Disability Index (p = 0.0121) and EuroQol-5D mobility (p = 0.0484) scores.


The SSP significantly reduced MRI utilization and referrals seen by the surgeon for nonoperative care. Although this early implementation study suggests potential for cost savings, a more rigorous analysis of outcomes, costs, and patient satisfaction is required.

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Daryl R. Fourney and Ziya L. Gokaslan

Sacral chordomas are relatively rare, locally invasive, malignant neoplasms. Although metastasis is infrequent at presentation, the prognosis for patients with chordoma of the sacrum is reported to be poor and attributable in most cases to intralesional resection. The value of adjuvant treatment is uncertain, and resection remains the primary mode of treatment. Chordomas are difficult to excise completely, but recent improvements in imaging and surgical techniques have allowed surgeons to perform more frequently en bloc sacral resections with wide surgical margins. The technical challenges of such operations, and the functional costs for the patient (with respect to anorectal and urogenital dysfunction) are significantly increased when the tumor involves high sacral levels. The authors review the clinical presentation and natural history of sacral chordoma and discuss the current treatment techniques and outcomes.

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Daryl R. Fourney and Ziya L. Gokaslan

In addition to tumor resection, a major goal of spine surgery involving tumors is the preservation or achievement of spinal stability. The criteria defining stability, originally developed for use in trauma, are not directly applicable in the setting of neoplasia. The authors discuss the most common patterns of tumor-related instability and deformity at all levels of the spinal column and review the surgical options for treatment.

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Adam S. Wu, Robert W. Griebel, Kotoo Meguro and Daryl R. Fourney

Spinal subdural empyema is an exceptionally rare and serious condition. Immediate surgery with complete exposure and drainage of the abscess is generally recommended. The authors present a patient in whom a Staphylococcus aureus septicemia related to nosocomial pneumonia developed after a thoracic laminectomy. The surgery was further complicated by an unintended durotomy (dural tear). Ten days postoperatively, the patient experienced back pain and lower-extremity symptoms caused by a subdural empyema. Cultures from the wound also grew S. aureus. This represents the first case of spinal subdural empyema in which the spread of infection into the subdural space is believed to have been facilitated by a dural tear. The patient had a favorable outcome despite an initial delay in surgical intervention because of a pulmonary embolus.

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Christopher K. Kepler, Alexander R. Vaccaro, Eric Chen, Alpesh A. Patel, Henry Ahn, Ahmad Nassr, Christopher I. Shaffrey, James Harrop, Gregory D. Schroeder, Amit Agarwala, Marcel F. Dvorak, Daryl R. Fourney, Kirkham B. Wood, Vincent C. Traynelis, S. Tim Yoon, Michael G. Fehlings and Bizhan Aarabi


In this clinically based systematic review of cervical facet fractures, the authors’ aim was to determine the optimal clinical care for patients with isolated fractures of the cervical facets through a systematic review.


A systematic review of nonoperative and operative treatment methods of cervical facet fractures was performed. Reduction and stabilization treatments were compared, and analysis of postoperative outcomes was performed. MEDLINE and Scopus databases were used. This work was supported through support received from the Association for Collaborative Spine Research and AOSpine North America.


Eleven studies with 368 patients met the inclusion criteria. Forty-six patients had bilateral isolated cervical facet fractures and 322 had unilateral isolated cervical facet fractures. Closed reduction was successful in 56.4% (39 patients) and 63.8% (94 patients) of patients using a halo vest and Gardner-Wells tongs, respectively. Comparatively, open reduction was successful in 94.9% of patients (successful reduction of open to closed reduction OR 12.8 [95% CI 6.1–26.9], p < 0.0001); 183 patients underwent internal fixation, with an 87.2% success rate in maintaining anatomical alignment. When comparing the success of patients who underwent anterior versus posterior procedures, anterior approaches showed a 90.5% rate of maintenance of reduction, compared with a 75.6% rate for the posterior approach (anterior vs posterior OR 3.1 [95% CI 1.0–9.4], p = 0.05).


In comparison with nonoperative treatments, operative treatments provided a more successful outcome in terms of failure of treatment to maintain reduction for patients with cervical facet fractures. Operative treatment appears to provide superior results to the nonoperative treatments assessed.