The orthopedic and neurosurgical literature is neither clear nor consistent in describing an unstable cervical spine. In a series of 25 patients treated by arthrodesis of the cervical spine for instability, 12 had Gallic fusions at the atlantoaxial level. Eight of those fusions were performed for rheumatoid arthritis. In three patients persistent subluxation of the atlas on the axis occurred because the wires were not fully tightened in areas of poor-quality bone. Stable fixation with relief of symptoms was achieved in all patients who had fusions at the sub-axial level. Several of these patients had had prolonged nonsurgical treatment. With rheumatoid bone of poor quality, the surgeon must be very careful to tighten the wires only enough to secure a stable reduction for treatment of subaxial cervical instability. Since stability achieved by healing of soft tissue is generally unreliable, prolonged periods of nonsurgical treatment are not justified for traumatic instability.
* Senior Registrar, St. Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, Eire. Currently at St. Joseph's Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
** Orthopaedic Consultant, St. Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, Eire.