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Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2005 Jun 1;30(11):E315-22.

Charcot's disease of the spine: diagnosis and treatment.

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Department of Orthopaedic and Pediatric Surgery, Fondation Hôpital Saint Joseph, Paris, France.



Retrospective study.


To report nine cases of Charcot's joint of the spine, to clarify the difficulty in diagnosis and treatment, and to analyze the literature.


Charcot's joint of the spine, also known as spinal neuropathic or neurogenic arthropathy, is a destructive condition that affects the intervertebral disc and the adjacent vertebral bodies. It is the result of a loss of joint protection mechanisms, generally secondary to a spinal cord lesion. We report a series of nine patients treated surgically.


Eight men and one woman suffering from paraplegia or tetraplegia were reviewed. The time interval between the neurologic disorder and the diagnosis of neuropathic spinal arthropathy was 10 to 36 years. The most frequent presenting symptom was an evolutive thoracolumbar kyphosis, sometimes associated with back pain or increased spasticity in the lower limbs. The neuropathic arthropathy involved the thoracic spine in four patients and the lumbar spine in four other patients. The remaining patient presented two arthropathies, one thoracic and one lumbosacral. A percutaneous vertebral biopsy was performed in five patients suspected to have an infection or a tumor. Treatment was always surgical. In eight cases, a circumferential fusion was performed in the area of the dislocated vertebral levels. The postoperative follow-up was from 3 years to 10 years.


A solid and stable circumferential fusion of the spine was obtained in all patients. The functional status improved in all patients. Pain and sagittal imbalance were successfully treated. The increased spasticity observed at the initial examination improved in all patients who returned to the neurological deficit initially present before the onset of Charcot's arthropathy.


The diagnosis of Charcot's arthropathy of the spine must be considered in paraplegic and tetraplegic patients with spinal deformity with bone destruction and vertebral dislocation in the absence of an infection or neoplastic disease. The treatment of a Charcot's spine is circumferential fusion and osteosynthesis. Monitoring by clinical and imaging examination must be continued, because multifocal vertebral lesions can occur in cases of extensive proprioceptive deficit.

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