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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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Christopher Ames, Vincent C. Traynelis, and Alexander R. Vaccaro

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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.

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


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.


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.


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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Gregory D. Schroeder, Christopher K. Kepler, MD MBA, and Alexander R. Vaccaro


The object of this study was to determine the fusion rate and safety profile of an axial interbody arthrodesis of the L5–S1 motion segment.


A systematic search of MEDLINE was conducted for literature published between January 1, 2000, and August 17, 2014. All peer-reviewed articles related to the fusion rate of L5–S1 and the safety profile of an axial interbody arthrodesis were evaluated.


Seventy-four articles were identified, but only 15 (13 case series and 2 retrospective cohort studies) met the study inclusion criteria. The overall pseudarthrosis rate at L5–S1 was 6.9%, and the rate of all other complications was 12.9%. A total of 14.4% of patients required additional surgery, and the infection rate was 5.4%. Deformity studies reported a significantly increased rate of complications (46.3%), and prospectively collected data demonstrated significantly higher complication (36.8%) and revision (22.6%) rates. Lastly, studies with a conflict of interest reported lower complication rates (12.4%).


A systematic review of the literature indicates that an axial interbody fusion performed at the lumbosacral junction is associated with a high fusion rate (93.15%) and an acceptable complication rate (12.90%). However, these results are based mainly on retrospective case series by authors with a conflict of interest. The limited prospective data available indicate that the actual fusion rate may be lower and the complication rate may be higher than currently reported.

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Pedicle versus lateral mass screws

Alexander R. Vaccaro

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Eli M. Baron, Christopher M. Loftus, Alexander R. Vaccaro, and Devanand A. Dominique

✓ Although it was originally developed to address degenerative problems, including disc herniations and cervical spondylotic myelopathy in the adult population, the anterior approach to the subaxial spine has proven to be useful for select indications in the pediatric population. The authors review indications for surgery, bone grafting, and instrumentation as they pertain to children.

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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.