Nonoperative management of dens fracture nonunion in elderly patients without myelopathy

Robert Hart, Andrea Saterbak, Timothy Rapp, Charles Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Study Design. A retrospective review of elderly patients treated without surgery for chronic mobile nonunions of the odontoid process. Patients were observed on an annual basis with clinical examinations and flexion/extensions plain film radiographs. Objectives. To evaluate the clinical and radiographic results of elderly patients without myelopathy treated without surgery for dens fracture nonunion. Summary of Background Data. Because of the risk of progressive myelopathy or sudden neurologic injury, many surgeons recommend operative stabilization for patients with mobile dens nonunions who are able to withstand an operation. There is, however, a lack of information about the radiographic and neurologic progression of dens nonunions. Although a less aggressive surgical approach has been recommended by some authors for elderly or medically compromised patients with acute fractures, long-term follow-up evaluation of patients with resulting nonunions has not been reported. Methods. A series of elderly patients with chronic, unstable, dens nonunions without myelopathy were treated with a nonoperative treatment protocol. Patients were informed of the nature of their lesion, including the risk of acute or chronic spinal cord injury and the options for operative treatment. Patients were evaluated yearly for clinical and radiographic progression. No intervention to slow progression of atlantoaxial instability was undertaken. Results. None of the patients developed myelopathic symptoms during the follow-up period, and no patient experienced more than a 1 mm radiographic increase in atlantoaxial excursion. None of the reported patients had less than 14 mm available for the spinal cord in either flexion or extension at the start of clinical monitoring. Conclusions. Although further follow-up evaluation is needed, the authors believe on the basis of this review that this treatment protocol may be considered for patients who are poor candidates for surgical fusion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1339-1343
Number of pages5
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2000


  • Dens fractures
  • Elderly
  • Myelopathy
  • Natural history
  • Nonunions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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