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Clin Neurol Neurosurg. 2018 Jun;169:166-173. doi: 10.1016/j.clineuro.2018.04.021. Epub 2018 Apr 22.

Nonoperative management of C-2 dens fractures: Single center experience and review of the literature.

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Department of Neurosurgery, University Hospital Essen, University of Duisburg-Essen, Hufelandstrasse 55, 45122, Essen, Germany. Electronic address:
Department of Neurosurgery, University Hospital Essen, University of Duisburg-Essen, Hufelandstrasse 55, 45122, Essen, Germany.



The demographic change in the population leads to a rising number of patients presenting with fractures of the cervical spine, especially C-2, due to falls. With an increase of co-morbidities in these elder patients, the risk for intra- and postoperative complications is increased likewise. Thus, an alternative strategy instead of operative management of these fractures should be taken into account whenever possible. Conservative management of dens fractures in the elderly is still a subject of great controversy despite numerous studies on this topic. The aim of this study was to analyze the rate of successful osseous consolidation of C-2 fractures with conservative treatment by wearing a semi-rigid collar or halo thoracic vest without further surgical intervention.


We analyzed the medical records and CT-scan of the cervical spine of 254 patients with C-2 fractures retrospectively, who were admitted to our department between January 1990 and September 2015. Fractures were diagnosed by CT-scan of the cervical spine and classified according to the Anderson - D`Alonzo classification. 183 patients were submitted to surgery as treatment of choice. In 71 patients a conservative management with external immobilization was chosen. The latter group was subjected to study analysis.


71 patients (mean age 74.08 years ± 16.06 years) were diagnosed with C-2 fractures (Typ I: 4; Typ II 36; Typ III: 31) and treated conservatively using a Philadelphia collar (n = 57), or a halo-thoracic vest (n = 14), respectively. 12 patients were lost to follow up and excluded from further analysis. Conservative treatment of the fractures was deemed successful when a bony consolidation of the fracture in follow-up CT scans was seen (45 of 59 patients; 76.3%). 20 patients with a Type II fracture (20/28, 71.4%) showed a successful ossification. In 14 patients (overall 23.7%; Typ I: 1 (7.14%), Typ II: 8 (57.14%), Typ III: 5 (35.71%)) external immobilization failed to achieve primary stability. These patients were submitted to consecutive surgery.


From our data it can be concluded that elderly patients, presenting with non-dislocated Type II fractures of the axis without accompaining neurological deficits, will have a more than 70% chance for a bony consolidation by conservative management. Consolidation rates may be estimated even higher in Type I and III fractures. Therefore, we suggest that external immobilization might be a valuable option to treat elderly patients with these fractures under certain circumstances.


Anderson - D`Alonzo classification; Bony consolidation; C2-fracture; Cervical spine fracture; Conservative management; Dens fracture

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