Reduction and ring fixation of instable C1 fractures with monoaxial pedicle screws
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Ring fixation of C1 can be performed using pedicle screws and a rod in case of unstable Jefferson or lateral mass fractures of C1.
Materials and methods
In a case series of three patients, we stabilized C1 fractures surgically using a modified technique of C1 ring fixation by using monoaxial instead of polyaxial screws. Functional outcome and pain was recorded postoperatively.
In this very small case series, we observed good results concerning pain and functional outcome. All fractures were bony healed within 13 weeks. In one case, a screw penetrated the spinal canal and had to be repositioned. A mild irritation of C2 nerve root occurred in two cases postoperatively.
C1 Ring fusion with monoaxial screws provides a good ability to reduce the fracture indirectly by the screws and the rod itself.
KeywordsC1 Jefferson fracture Unstable C1 fracture Ring fixation Monoaxial pedicle screws Lateral mass screws
Jefferson fractures are burst fractures of the first cervical vertebra and uncommon [1, 2, 3]. Whereas the classical Jefferson fracture involves both arches and both sides, uni- or bilateral lateral mass fractures can either be stable or unstable . The presence of an intact transverse ligament is determining for the stability of the fracture [1, 4, 5]. Whereas stable fracture can be treated conservatively, unstable fractures are usually treated surgically . CT scans are commonly used for proper diagnosis. Separation of lateral masses or dislocations of more than 7 mm have to be considered as unstable and should therefore be treated surgically [4, 5]. Beside techniques resulting in a fusion of the first two cervical vertebrae, procedures maintaining the motion in this segment are becoming more popular [6, 7, 8]. Some few publications can be found about lateral mass ring fixation—usually performed with polyaxial pedicle screws and a rod [6, 7]. Using monoaxial pedicle screws, we have modified this technique in order to get a better reduction and probably a greater stability.
Materials and methods
Between 2010 and 2012, three patients with an unstable Jefferson fracture were treated operatively at our institution using this new technique. In all patients, a posterior approach and ring osteosynthesis with monoaxial pedicle screws and a rod was performed. Follow-up examinations were planned at day 14, after 6 weeks and after 3 months. Implants were removed in two cases. Final follow-up was performed at least 1 year after hardware removal. One patient was not contactable for the final follow-up.
After hardware removal, two patients had a left rotation in neutral sagittal position of 45°–90°, a right rotation of 45°–70° and distance between chin and jugulum of 0–3 cm.
The third patient was lost for follow-up. All three patients had/had were free of pain after 3 months.
All fractures were bony healed between 11 and 13 weeks. 5 of 6 lateral mass screws were positioned correctly, one screw penetrated into the spinal canal (case 2). In two patients, the fractures were fixed in an anatomically reduced position; in one patient (case 2) we had a loss of reduction of 2 mm after correction of the penetrating screw.
We noticed no problems with wound or bone healing. In case 2, a screw penetrated the spinal canal, and in two of three patients the nerve roots of C2 were irritated after surgery. Hardware removal was performed in two cases without any complications.
Although fixation of Jefferson fractures with pedicle screws is not a new technique, we describe the first cases performed with monoaxial screws [6, 7]. Whereas most isolated C1 ring fractures with mild or no dislocation of the lateral mass can be treated conservatively by a collar or a halo brace for 3 months, there is still discussion about how to treat unstable fractures with dislocation of the lateral mass of more than 7 mm or disruption of the transverse ligament [1, 5]. Some authors still favour a fusion of C1–C2, others are recommending a transoral approach to fix C1 fractures with plates or a rod [8, 10]. The posterior ring osteosynthesis offers enough stability for healing of bony injuries of C1 and should therefore be preferred especially in young patient to preserve the function of the atlantoaxial joint and a physiological range of motion. In patient 1 and 3, we had the situation of a bony avulsion of the transverse ligament—which is—in our opinion—the optimal indication for motion preserving technique. In patient 2, we found no avulsion fragment of the ligament—therefore a rupture has to be assumed. Unfortunately, this patient could not be examined for long term. But what about purely ligamentous injuries? Is a bony ring reduction and fixation sufficient for healing of the transverse ligament? Abelos et al. described 2011 a ring fixation with two polyaxial pedicle screws and a rod stabilizing a Jefferson type III fracture after failed union with halo brace for 3 months . The fracture was healed 7 months after surgery . The use of a halo vest in adults with a C1 ring fracture should be discussed seriously, because stable fractures can be immobilized sufficiently with a collar and unstable fractures require a ring osteosynthesis—when possible—or fusion. Monoaxial screws with the possibility of a reduction of the ventral and the dorsal part of the arches should be preferred when performing a ring osteosynthesis. Opening and reaming of the lateral mass of C1 was one of the difficulties that have to be overcome with the CD Horizon Longitude™ system. This system is designed for thoracic and lumbar spine where the pedicles are probed with a Yamshidi needle. For our purpose, we had to modify the technique by using machine drilled k-wires and cannulated drills (Synthes GmbH, Eimattstraße 3, CH-4436 Oberdorf, Switzerland). The use of an intraoperatively CT scan could avoid screw misplacement harming the spinal canal or the vertebral artery. Greater studies are mandatory to confirm the results of our case series. Monoaxial screws with smaller diameters, smaller sleeves and appropriate reduction tools could facilitate the surgical procedure and reduce the risk of C2 nerve root and other soft tissue irritation.
For future patients, we plan to improve diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. Intraoperative 3D-CT scans are now available at our operating theatre to proof correct position of k-wires before drilling and taping as well as insufficient reduction or overcorrection of the fracture. This procedure could be a powerful alternative technique for bony avulsion fractures of the transverse ligament. But whether a motion preserving technique is able to deal with ligamentous ruptures—ending up in an acceptable tight scar-situation—is highly questionable. Beside clinical outcome measurement, postoperative functional CT scans could perhaps help us to answer this question in future. In these cases, a definitive fusion of C1/2 should be considered as a well-established method.
Open access funding provided by Medical University of Graz.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
All above mentioned authors declare that they have no conflict of interest, no funding was received for this study, no existing proprietary interest.
No external funding received for this study.
Informed consent was given by the patients.
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