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J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 1997 Oct;5(5):240-248.

Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Cervical Spine.

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Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, University of Vermont College of Medicine, Burlington.


Cervical involvement in patients with rheumatoid arthritis occurs primarily in the upper cervical spine. The characteristic deformities are atlantoaxial subluxation, vertical settling, and subaxial subluxation. The typical patient complaints are neck pain and occipital pain. Subtle signs of myelopathy may also be present. Useful radiologic studies include plain radiography, tomography, and functional magnetic resonance imaging. The most helpful radiographic measurements are the anterior atlantodens interval, the posterior atlantodens interval, and assessment of vertical settling. Atlantoaxial subluxation greater than 9 mm with vertical settling and a posterior atlantodens interval less than 14 mm correlate with neurologic deficit. Nonoperative management does not change the natural history of cervical disease. Traditional surgical indications include intractable pain and neurologic deficit. The author discusses more controversial indications and proposes a rationale and protocol for treatment. The primary surgical objectives are to achieve stabilization of the affected segments and to relieve neural compression by reduction of subluxations or direct decompression. Arthrodesis provides reliable pain relief. Neurologic recovery occurs more consistently in patients with lower grades of preoperative myelopathy.


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