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Christopher Wilson, Mariana Hoyos, Andrew Huh, Blake Priddy, Stephen Avila, Stephen Mendenhall, Miracle C. Anokwute, George J. Eckert, and David W. Stockwell


Type II odontoid fractures may be managed operatively or nonoperatively. If managed with bracing, bony union may never occur despite stability. This phenomenon is termed fibrous union. The authors aimed to determine associations with stable fibrous union and compare the morbidity of patients managed operatively and nonoperatively.


The authors performed a retrospective review of their spine trauma database for adults with type II odontoid fractures between 2015 and 2019. Two-sample t-tests and Fisher’s exact tests identified associations with follow-up stability and were used to compare operative and nonoperative outcomes. Sensitivity, specificity, and predictive values were calculated to validate initial stable upright cervical radiographs related to follow-up stability.


Among 88 patients, 10% received upfront surgical fixation, and 90% were managed nonoperatively, of whom 22% had fracture instability on follow-up. Associations with instability after nonoperative management include myelopathy (OR 0.04, 95% CI 0.0–0.92), cerebrovascular disease (OR 0.23, 95% CI 0.06–1.0), and dens displacement ≥ 2 mm (OR 0.29, 95% CI 0.07–1.0). Advanced age was not associated with follow-up instability. Initial stability on upright radiographs was associated with stability on follow-up (OR 4.29, 95% CI 1.0–18) with excellent sensitivity and positive predictive value (sensitivity 89%, specificity 35%, positive predictive value 83%, and negative predictive value 46%). The overall complication rate and respiratory failure requiring ventilation on individual complication analysis were more common in operatively managed patients (33% vs 3%, respectively; p = 0.007), even though they were generally younger and healthier than those managed nonoperatively. Operative or nonoperative management conferred no difference in length of hospital or ICU stay, discharge disposition, or mortality.


The authors delineate the validity of upright cervical radiographs on presentation in association with follow-up stability in type II odontoid fractures. In their experience, factors associated with instability included cervical myelopathy, cerebrovascular disease, and fracture displacement but not increased age. Operatively managed patients had higher complication rates than those managed without surgery. Fibrous union, which can occur with nonoperative management, provided adequate stability.