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Richard Bransford, Alexis Falicov, Quynh Nguyen and Jens Chapman

Object

The object of this study was to describe an unusual fracture subtype within C-1 injuries with a propensity to result in late deformity and pain. Most patients with C-1 injuries are nonsurgically treated using external immobilization unless there is an injury of the transverse atlantal ligament. The authors describe an unusual variant involving a unilateral sagittal split with a high tendency to late deformity and pain. They also review the literature and treatment of C-1 fractures.

Methods

A retrospective review of 12,671 CT scans from a Level I trauma center over a 6-year period yielded 54 patients with C-1 fractures. Among these patients, 6 had an unusual unilateral lateral mass sagittal split, which resulted in a late cock-robin deformity in all survivors and thus a surgical deformity correction with occipital-cervical instrumented fusions. Patient charts and radiographs were reviewed, this fracture subtype is described, and its treatment discussed.

Results

Radiographic studies in 6 patients with C-1 fractures demonstrated a unilateral sagittal split of the lateral mass but an intact transverse atlantal ligament. In the 3 surviving patients, a late cock-robin deformity, significant loss of neck rotation, and severe neck pain developed. Vertebral artery occlusion, as revealed on CT angiography, occurred in 1 patient. All patients were placed in traction and underwent successful occipital-cervical fusion and deformity correction. At the final follow-up, all patients had satisfactory pain relief and improved head alignment.

Conclusions

Patients with a unilateral sagittal split of the C-1 lateral mass have unstable injuries and must be carefully monitored, with a low threshold for surgical reconstruction or prolonged traction. Patients with late deformity can be successfully treated with occipital-cervical instrumented fusions.

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W. Bradley Jacobs, Richard J. Bransford, Carlo Bellabarba and Jens R. Chapman

Object

Charcot spinal arthropathy (CSA) is an uncommon disorder that occurs in the setting of conditions with decreased protective sensation of the vertebral column, resulting in vertebral joint degeneration, pain, and deformity. Historically, CSA treatment has been fraught with high failure rates. Over time, the authors' institution has trended toward a CSA treatment paradigm of intralesional debridement, circumferential fusion, and four-rod lumbopelvic fixation. As such, the overall objectives of this study were to define the specific clinical characteristics of this rare condition and to determine whether the authors' treatment paradigm has decreased the incidence of revision due to hardware failure/presumed pseudarthrosis or the development of a new CSA over the course of the study and in comparison with historical controls.

Methods

The authors performed a retrospective review of the clinical and radiographic records for all patients with CSA treated by the Spine Service at the University of Washington between 1997 and 2009.

Results

Twenty-three patients with CSA were identified. The mean age at presentation was 43.1 years, and the mean latency between spinal cord injury and CSA diagnosis was 19.6 years. The mean follow-up was 33.1 months. Pain and progressive deformity were the major presenting symptoms. Concomitant infection was identified in 17% of patients. Patients with CSA were noted to have long initial fusion constructs spanning an average of 8.4 vertebral levels. Charcot spinal arthropathy did not occur above the level of neurological injury. The vast majority of CSA cases occurred caudally along the spinal axis, with 65% occurring within 1 level of the caudal end of the index fusion construct and 35% occurring even farther distally. Revision due to hardware failure or the development of a new CSA level occurred in 35% of patients. Rates of treatment failure requiring revision significantly decreased over the course of the study, with revision occurring in 6 (66%) of 9 patients who underwent surgery before 2002, in comparison with only 2 (14%) of 14 treated between 2002 and 2009. During a mean follow-up period of 34 months, no treatment revision occurred in the subgroup of 9 patients who underwent four-rod lumbopelvic fixation.

Conclusions

This study represents the largest reported modern surgical series of CSA patients. While revision rates were initially high and comparable to previous reports, the authors' multimodal treatment paradigm, which includes the use of bone morphogenetic protein and four-rod lumbopelvic fixation, dramatically reduced the incidence of treatment failure requiring revision over the course of the study period and represents a significant improvement in the treatment of CSA.

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Richard Bransford, Fangyi Zhang, Carlo Bellabarba, Mark Konodi and Jens R. Chapman

Object

Symptomatic thoracic disc herniations (TDHs) are relatively uncommon and are typically treated with an anterior approach. Various posterior surgical approaches have been developed to treat TDH, but the gold standard remains transthoracic decompression. Certain patients have comorbidities and herniation aspects that are not optimally treated with an anterior approach. A transfacet pedicle-sparing approach was first described in 1995, but outcomes and complications have not been well described. The objective of this study was to assess outcomes and complications in a consecutive series of patients with TDH undergoing posterior transfacet decompression and discectomy with posterior instrumentation and fusion.

Methods

Eighteen consecutive patients undergoing operative management of TDH were identified from a tertiary care referral database. All patients underwent a transfacet pedicle-sparing decompression and segmental instrumentation with interbody fusion. Outcomes and complications were retrospectively assessed in this patient series. Clinical records were scrutinized to assess levels and types of disc herniation; blood loss; pre- and postoperative motor scores, Nurick grades, and visual analog pain scale scores; and complications such as wrong-level surgery, infection, seroma, and neurological changes. Pre- and postoperative imaging studies were reviewed to assess levels and types of herniation, alignment, and accuracy of instrumentation.

Results

Of the 18 patients, 9 had TDHs at multiple levels. The patients presented with symptoms including myelopathy, axial back pain, urinary symptoms, and radiculopathy and radiological evidence of 29 compressive TDHs ranging from T1–2 to T12–L1. Discs were classified as central (10) or paracentral (19). All discs were successfully removed with no incidence of wrong-level surgery or CSF leak. The mean estimated blood loss was 870 ml with no dural tears. Nurick grades improved on average from 2.5 to 1.9. All patients reported improvement in symptoms compared with preoperative status. The mean visual analog scale score improved from 59 to 21. Sixteen of the 18 patients spent an average of 4.2 days in the hospital; the 2 other patients spent 58 and 69 days. The average duration of follow-up was 12.2 months in 14 patients; 4 patients were lost to follow-up. Twelve patients had no complications. Five patients developed postoperative wound infections or seromas requiring additional operative debridement. One patient had a misplaced screw and suboptimally positioned interbody graft requiring revision. One transient neurological deterioration (American Spinal Injury Association [ASIA] D to ASIA B) occurred postoperatively associated with an inferior segment fracture 20 days after surgery. This necessitated extending the fusion caudally; the patient subsequently experienced a full return to better-than-baseline neurological status.

Conclusions

A modified transfacetal pedicle-sparing approach combined with short segmental fusion offers a safe means of achieving concurrent decompression and segmental stabilization and is an option for certain subtypes of TDH. Although 6 patients required additional surgery for postoperative complications, all patients experienced improvement relative to their preoperative status.

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Jens R. Chapman, Paul A. Anderson, Christopher Pepin, Sean Toomey, David W. Newell and M. Sean Grady

✓ Fractures, tumors, and other causes of instability at the cervicothoracic junction pose diagnostic and treatment challenges. The authors report on 23 patients with instability of the cervicothoracic region, which was treated with posterior plate fixation and fusion between the lower cervical and upper thoracic spine. During operation AO reconstruction plates with 8- or 12-mm hole spacing were affixed to the spine using screws in the cervical lateral masses and the thoracic pedicles. Postoperative immobilization consisted of the patient's wearing a simple external brace for 2 months. The following parameters were analyzed during the pre- and postoperative treatment period: neurological status, spine anatomy and reconstruction, and complications. Follow up consisted of clinical and radiographic examinations (mean duration of follow up, 15.4 months; range, 6–41 months).

No neurovascular or pulmonary complications arose from surgery. All patients achieved a solid arthrodesis based on flexion-extension radiographs. There was no significant change in angulation during the postoperative period, but one patient had an increase in translation that was not clinically significant. There were no hardware complications that required reoperation. One patient requested hardware removal in hopes of reducing postoperative pain in the cervicothoracic region. One postoperative wound infection required debridement but not hardware removal. The authors conclude that posterior plate fixation is a satisfactory method of treatment of cervicothoracic instability.

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Doniel Drazin, Jens R. Chapman, Andrew Dailey and John Street

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Faheem A. Sandhu and Richard G. Fessler

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Gregory C. Wiggins, Sohail Mirza, Carlo Bellabarba, G. Alex West, Jens R. Chapman and Christopher I. Shaffrey

Object

Anterior decompression and stabilization for thoracic spinal tumors often involves a thoracotomy and can be associated with surgical approach–related complications. An alternative to thoracotomy is surgery via a costotransversectomy exposure.

To delineate the risks of surgery, the authors reviewed their prospective database for patients who had undergone surgery via either of these approaches for thoracic or thoracolumbar tumors. The complications were recorded and graded based on severity and risk of impact on patient outcome.

Methods

Between September 1995 and April 2001, the authors performed 29 costotransversectomies (Group 1) and 18 thoracolumbar or combined (Group 2) approaches as initial operations for thoracic neoplasms. The age, sex, pre-operative motor score, and preoperative Frankel grade did not significantly differ between the groups. In the costotransversectomy group there were greater numbers of metastases, upper thoracic procedures, and affected vertebral levels; additionally, the comorbidity rate based on Charlson score, was higher. The mean Frankel grades at discharge were not significantly different whereas the discharge motor and last follow-up motor scores were better in Group 2. There were 11 Group 1 and seven Group 2 patients who suffered at least one complication. The number or patients with complications, the mean number of complications, and severity of complications did not differ between the groups.

Conclusions

Compared with anterior or combined approaches, the incidence and severity of perioperative complications in the surgical treatment of thoracic and thoracolumbar spinal tumors is similar in patients who undergo costotransversectomy. Costotransversectomy may be the preferred operation in patients with significant medical comorbidity or tumors involving more than one thoracic vertebra.

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Saadi Ghatan, David W. Newell, M. Sean Grady, Sohail K. Mirza, Jens R. Chapman, Frederick A. Mann and Richard G. Ellenbogen

✓ Children younger than 3 years of age represent a distinct subpopulation of patients at particular risk for high cervical and craniovertebral injuries. There are few descriptions of survivors of severe craniocervical trauma among the very young, and scarce data exist regarding management after initial emergency stabilization.

The authors describe three children, age 1 to 32 months, who presented with craniocervical junction injuries. Variable neurological findings were observed at presentation (cranial nerve deficits, obtundation, and moderate-to-severe quadriparesis). All three were treated with prolonged immobilization and have recovered with minimal to no neurological deficit.