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Neurosurgery. 2018 Apr 1;82(4):419-430. doi: 10.1093/neuros/nyx546.

Management of Odontoid Fractures in the Elderly: A Review of the Literature and an Evidence-Based Treatment Algorithm.

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Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, New York.
Spine Program, Department of Surgery, University of Arizona-College of Medicine, Tuscon, Arizona.


Odontoid fractures are the most common fracture of the axis and the most common cervical spine fracture in patients over 65. Despite their frequency, there is considerable ambiguity regarding optimal management strategies for these fractures in the elderly. Poor bone health and medical comorbidities contribute to increased surgical risk in this population; however, nonoperative management is associated with a risk of nonunion or fibrous union. We provide a review of the existing literature and discuss the classification and evaluation of odontoid fractures. The merits of operative vs nonoperative management, fibrous union, and the choice of operative approach in elderly patients are discussed. A treatment algorithm is presented based on the available literature. We believe that type I and type III odontoid fractures can be managed in a collar in most cases. Type II fractures with any additonal risk factors for nonunion (displacement, comminution, etc) should be considered for surgical management. However, the risks of surgery in an elderly population must be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis. In a frail elderly patient, a fibrous nonunion with close follow-up is an acceptable outcome. If operative management is chosen, a posterior approach is should be chosen when fracture- or patient-related factors make an anterior approach challenging. The high levels of morbidity and mortality associated with odontoid fractures should encourage all providers to pursue medical co-management and optimization of bone health following diagnosis.


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