Patients with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) who present with cervical spine fractures represent a unique challenge to spine surgeons. These injuries often result in neurological deficits that necessitate early and aggressive surgical management with posterior and/or anterior fixation. The authors introduce a clinical problem-solving algorithm to assist in the surgical management of instability and deformity in this exigent patient population.
Thirteen patients with AS and fractures of the cervical spine were radiographically evaluated to determine if spinal realignment was obtainable with cervical manipulation or traction. Seven patients had flexible deformities that were stabilized with either anterior or posterior fixation only, and 6 patients had fixed deformities and required circumferential anterior–posterior instrumentation. All patients were observed for neurological outcome, radiographic evidence of bone fusion, and complications.
With the use of the authors' treatment algorithm, all patients were able to achieve satisfactory spinal realignment and bone fusion; 92% of patients achieved postoperative stability or improvement in Nurick and modified Japanese Orthopaedic Association scale scores. One patient experienced neurological deterioration following surgery, and 1 patient died at an acute rehabilitative facility following discharge.
Patients with AS are highly susceptible to extensive neurological injury and spinal deformity after sustaining cervical fractures from even minor traumatic forces. These injuries are uniquely complex in nature and require considerable scrutiny and aggressive surgical management to optimize spinal stability and functional outcomes. The authors' clinical problem-solving algorithm will assist spine surgeons in providing optimal care in this difficult population.