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Spine J. 2004 Nov-Dec;4(6):689-700.

Rheumatoid arthritis: evaluation and surgical management of the cervical spine.

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Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Rush Medical College, Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, 1725 West Harrison Street, Suite 1063 POB, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.



Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating polyarthropathic degenerative condition. Eighty-six percent of patients with rheumatoid arthritis have cervical spine involvement. Often these lesions are clinically asymptomatic or symptoms are erroneously attributed to peripheral manifestation of the patient's rheumatoid disease. Because these lesions are common and missed diagnosis can result in death, early recognition is vital.


The purpose of this literature review is to identify common lesions present in the rheumatoid neck and review diagnostic methods as well as treatment options for those requiring surgical intervention.


A review of the English medical literature with focus on more recent studies on the presentation, diagnosis, management, surgical treatment and clinical outcomes of rheumatoid arthritis of the cervical spine.


A comprehensive literature review of the English medical literature obtained through Medline up to November 2003 was performed identifying relevant and more recent articles that addressed the presentation, evaluation, surgical management and outcomes of rheumatoid patients with cervical spine involvement.


If left untreated, a large percentage of rheumatoid patients with cervical spine involvement progress toward complex instability patterns resulting in significant morbidity and mortality. Once myelopathy occurs, prognosis for neurologic recovery and long-term survival is poor. In properly selected patients, anterior and/or posterior cervical procedures can prevent neurologic injuries and preserve remaining function.


Cervical spine involvement in the rheumatoid patient is common and progressive. Early diagnosis and treatment is imperative; however, surgical intervention should be considered carefully because associated morbidity and mortality is high.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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