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Gregory J. Przybylski, James S. Harrop and Alexander R. Vaccaro

Object

Acute respiratory failure has been observed in patients after external immobilization for displaced odontoid fractures. The authors studied the frequency of respiratory deterioration in the acute management of displaced Type II odontoid fractures to identify patients at risk for respiratory failure.

Methods

The authors conducted a retrospective review of a consecutive series of 89 patients with odontoid fractures who were treated over a 5-year period to identify 53 patients with displaced Type II odontoid fractures. Patient demographics, degree of displacement, respiratory status, treatment method, and outcome were examined. Of the 32 patients with posteriorly displaced fractures, 13 experienced acute respiratory compromise, whereas only one of 21 patients with anteriorly displaced fractures had respiratory difficulties (p = 0.0032). The average posterior displacement was 6.9 mm. All 13 were initially managed using flexion traction for reduction of these fractures. Two of these patients died because of failure to emergently secure an airway during closed treatment of the fracture.

Conclusions

Frequent respiratory deterioration during acute closed reduction of posteriorly displaced Type II odontoid fractures was observed, whereas respiratory failure in patients with anteriorly displaced fractures was rare. The use of the flexed cervical position in the setting of retropharyngeal edema rather than the direction of the displacement may substantially increase the risk of respiratory failure. This may prompt early elective nasotracheal intubation during closed reduction of posteriorly displaced Type II odontoid fractures that require a flexed posture.

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James S. Harrop, Gregory J. Przybylski, Alexander R. Vaccaro and Kennedy Yalamanchili

Object

Type II odontoid fractures are the most common trauma-related dens fracture. Although Type III odontoid fractures have a high union rate when external immobilization is applied, Type II fractures are associated with high rates of nonunion, particularly in elderly patients and those with posteriorly displaced fractures or fractures displaced by more than 6 mm. Because elderly patients may not also tolerate external immobilization in a halo vest, alternative techniques should be explored to identify a method for managing these higher-risk patients. In this study the authors examine the efficacy of anterior odontoid screw fixation in a high-risk group of 10 elderly patients (> 65 years of age) treated for Type II odontoid fractures.

Methods

A retrospective review of all patients with Type II odontoid fractures treated at two institutions between September 1997 and March 2000 was performed. Demographic data, neurological examination, fracture type and degree of displacement, treatment method, and outcome data were examined at discharge. Ten patients older than 65 years who had sustained a trauma-related odontoid fracture and had undergone an anterior odontoid screw placement procedure were retrospectively reviewed. Fracture displacement (mean 6.6 mm) was observed in all but one patient, and in seven there were posteriorly displaced fractures. Seven were successfully treated with anterior screw fixation and external orthosis alone; in one patient in whom poor intraoperative screw purchase had been observed, the fracture healed after undergoing halo vest therapy. Only one patient was shown to develop a nonunion requiring a subsequent posterior fusion procedure.

Conclusions

Odontoid screw fixation can be safely performed in elderly patients, and frequent bone union is demonstrated. However, osteopenia may preclude adequate screw fixation in some patients.

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Alexander R. Vaccaro and Luke Madigan

✓ With the increasing use of bioabsorbable implants in a variety of clinical conditions, potential advantages in selected spinal applications are now being realized. Newer polymers with biomechanical properties relevant to the requirements of specific spinal implants and resorption rates appropriate for specific spinal applications are being developed. These new materials offer the necessary biomechanical stability of conventional spinal implants without the sequelae associated with metallic implants such as long-term loosening, implant migration, and imaging interference. At this time, the majority of clinical applications for these new polymers have involved tension band plating in the lumbar and anterior cervical spine, anterior spinal interbody reconstruction, posterior bone graft containment, and bone graft harvest site reconstruction.

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Alexander R. Vaccaro, John A. Carrino, Benjamin H. Venger, Todd Albert, Peter M. Kelleher, Alan Hilibrand and Kush Singh

Object. Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) is a widely accepted treatment for anterior degenerative or traumatic instability of the cervical spine. To reduce or eliminate complications such as implant migration and failure, imaging degradation, and fusion stress shielding that are occasionally associated with spinal instrumentation, attention has been given to the use of bioresorbable anterior cervical plate (ACP) devices. This paper is a preliminary report of a retrospective series in which a resorbable mesh and screw system was used for graft containment in single-level ACDF.

Methods. A review of patient charts and imaging studies was conducted to determine functional outcome, fusion success, and potential soft-tissue reaction to implant resorption. Nine patients with a cervical degenerative disc disease or traumatic disc disruption were treated between October 2001 and March 2002. Follow up averaged 206 days. Eight patients were found to have an excellent result, one patient had a good result, and no patients had a satisfactory or poor result. At the time of follow-up examination, 77% of patients were found to have a radiographically solid fusion. The two patients without a solid fusion were examined only an average 8 months postoperatively and manifested no symptoms related to fusion nonhealing. No significant soft-tissue reaction was noted clinically or radiographically in any of the patients.

Conclusions. The results of this preliminary study indicate that bioresorbable ACP systems for single-level ACDF are both safe and effective.

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John M. Beiner, Jonathan Grauer, Brian K. Kwon and Alexander R. Vaccaro

Postoperative spinal wound infections occur in 1 to 12% of patients. The rate of infection is related to the type and duration of the procedure, comorbidities, nutritional status, and various other risk factors. Antibiotic prophylactic therapy has been clearly shown to decrease the rate of infection dramatically after lumbar surgery. These infections typically manifest with signs and symptoms of wound swelling, erythema, and drainage. Laboratory-detected values such as the erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein can be elevated beyond what is normal for the uncomplicated postoperative course following lumbar surgery, and combined with the clinical symptoms should alert the physician to the possibility of infection. When detected, these infections should be managed aggressively with operative debridment and irrigation, including the deep subfascial layer in all cases except those with clearly demarcated superficial infection. The choice of one versus multiple debridments can be made based on the appearance of the wound, patient factors, and nutritional status. Hardware and incorporated bone graft can be left in place in the majority of cases, adding to stability. Outcomes following aggressive treatment of this complication can be excellent, with no long-term loss of function and complete eradication of the infection.

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James S. Harrop, Ashwini D. Sharan, Edward H. Scheid Jr., Alexander R. Vaccaro and Gregory J. Przybylski

Object. The authors sought to identify variables that predispose patients with acute American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) Grade A cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) to require tracheostomies for ventilator support or airway protection.

Methods. A retrospective analysis was performed of 178 consecutive patients with a cervical ASIA Grade A SCI who were admitted through the Delaware Valley SCI Center at Thomas Jefferson Hospital during a 6-year period. Exclusion criteria included injury occurring more than 48 hours prior to admission, death within 14 days of admission or nontraumatic SCI. Twenty-two patients were excluded based on these criteria. Parameters evaluated in the remaining population (156 patients) included demographics, cervical vertebral ASIA level, tracheostomy placement, pneumonia, premorbid pulmonary disease, smoking history, evidence of direct thoracic/lung trauma, operative intervention, associated appendicular trauma, and preexisting medical comorbidities.

The ASIA classification of the 156 patients included in this analysis were C-2 (eight), C-3 (11), C-4 (64), C-5 (36), C-6 (20), C-7 (13), and C-8 (four). Tracheostomies were performed in 107 of these 156 patients. Statistical analysis revealed a significant relationship between tracheostomy and patient age (p = 0.0048), preexisting medical conditions (p = 0.0417), premorbid lung disease (p = 0.0177), higher cervical ASIA level (p < 0.0001), and the presence of pneumonia (p < 0.0001). No patient with a C-8 ASIA A injury required tracheostomy, whereas all C-2 and C-3 ASIA A—injured patients underwent tracheostomies. Patients older than 45 years of age with ASIA A levels between C-4 and C-7 more commonly required tracheostomy (p < 0.005) than patients younger than 45 years of age.

Conclusions. Several risk factors were identified that corresponded to the frequent tracheostomy placement in the acute injury phase after complete cervical SCI. Early tracheostomy may be considered in patients with multiple risk factors to reduce duration of stay in the intensive care unit and facilitate ventilatory weaning.

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Alexander R. Vaccaro, Matthew M. Robbins, Luke Madigan, Todd J. Albert, William Smith and Alan S. Hilibrand

Object

In this pilot study the authors assessed the efficacy of bioabsorbable interbody spacers in the treatment of cervical degenerative disease. Metallic cages or interbody spacers have been widely used in the treatment of degenerative and traumatic cervical disease. Bioabsorbable technology has been used to develop a resorbable cage that can eliminate the complications and drawbacks seen with the use of traditional metallic implants. In general clinical practice bioabsorbable implants have shown the ability to degrade safely while demonstrating optimal imaging characteristics as a result of their radiolucency, and these devices eliminate stress shielding by their gradual dissolution.

Methods

This study is a retrospective evaluation of charts and x-ray films obtained in the first eight patients who underwent an anterior cervical decompression and fusion procedure with placement of a bioabsorbable interbody spacer and anterior cervical plate. All patients were treated in one surgeon's practice and had a minimum follow-up period of at least 6 months. At a follow-up interval of approximately 7 months, five patients exhibited an excellent result and three had a good result; no patient was noted to have a satisfactory or poor outcome according to the Odom criteria at their most recent follow-up visit. Seventeen (94%) of 18 grafted levels appeared to be solidly fused. One patient experienced a perisurgical complication consisting of a symptomatic hematoma, which was successfully drained.

Conclusions

Bioabsorbable interbody spacers appear to be a safe and effective interbody implant in terms of clinical outcome and radiographically confirmed healing.

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Matthew M. Robbins, Alexander R. Vaccaro and Luke Madigan

The use of bioabsorbable implants in spine surgery is expanding at a rapid pace. These implants are mimicking the roles of traditional metallic devices and are demonstrating similar efficacy in terms of maintaining stability and acting as carriers for grafting substances. Biomechanical studies have demonstrated their ability to stabilize effectively a degenerative cervical and lumbar motion segment. In numerous animal models, researchers have illustrated the ability of bioabsorbable implants to function satisfactorily as an interbody spacer and to achieve satisfactory bone fusion. Investigators have explored various opportunities for these implants to replace their metallic counterparts in clinical studies conducted in humans. The gradual resorption of these implants appears effectively to transfer gradual loads to the grafting substances promoting the biological mechanisms of fusion.

Novel uses of bioabsorbable technology are constantly evolving. Their future as a carrier of biological agents such as bone morphogenetic proteins and bone graft extenders, their radiolucency, and their eventual resorption make them an ideal implant for use in spinal degenerative disease.

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James S. Harrop, Gabriel E. Hunt Jr. and Alexander R. Vaccaro

Conus medullaris syndrome (CMS) and cauda equina syndrome (CES) are complex neurological disorders that can be manifested through a variety of symptoms. Patients may present with back pain, unilateral or bilateral leg pain, paresthesias and weakness, perineum or saddle anesthesia, and rectal and/or urinary incontinence or dysfunction. Although patients typically present with acute disc herniations, traumatic injuries at the thoracolumbar junction at the terminal portion of the spinal cord and cauda equina are also common. Unfortunately, a precise understanding of the pathophysiology and optimal treatments, including the best timing of surgery, has yet to be elucidated for either traumatic CES or CMS. In this paper the authors review the current literature on traumatic conus medullaris and cauda equina injuries and available treatment options.

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Harvey E. Smith, David W. Wimberley and Alexander R. Vaccaro

Discectomy, decompression, and fusion are traditionally used to manage cervical disc disease accompanied by neural element compression that is refractory to conservative management. Concerns regarding stress at levels adjacent to fusion and possible adjacent-level degeneration as well as a desire to maintain a more normal biomechanical environment have led to investigation of cervical disc replacement as an alternative to fusion procedures. Cervical disc prostheses currently under investigation are constructed of predominantly metal-on-polyethylene or metal-on-metal bearing surfaces, and use roughened titanium surfaces and osteoconductive coatings to facilitate fixation. The unique anatomy and biomechanics of the cervical spine must be considered when extrapolating from the experience of appendicular arthroplasty and lumbar disc replacement.