The appropriate treatment of dens fractures is unclear. We established a staged treatment protocol for dens fractures and conducted a prospective study to evaluate the outcome of treatment based on this protocol.
We prospectively evaluated sixty-nine consecutive patients who presented to our institution with a dens fracture. The mean duration of follow-up was 9.7 months (range, six to fifty-eight months). Fractures were categorized as stable or unstable. Stable fractures were treated by immobilization in a rigid collar. Patients seventy-five years or older with unstable fractures, patients with a neurological deficit, and patients with Anderson and D’Alonzo type-III fractures underwent posterior transarticular C1-C2 stabilization. Unstable fractures in patients younger than seventy-five years were stabilized with direct anterior screw fixation. Thirty-one patients were treated with a Philadelphia collar, twenty-five with posterior transarticular fixation, and thirteen with direct anterior screw fixation.
Fracture-healing or solid fusion of C1-C2 was documented in sixty-eight of sixty-nine treated patients at final follow-up. The remaining patient had a stable nonunion of the dens. Secondary procedures were performed in five patients.
Our treatment algorithm based on dens fracture type, fracture stability, and patient age was associated with a high success rate. Evaluating fracture stability is crucial when considering nonoperative treatment. External stabilization with a rigid cervical collar was adequate for stable fractures of the dens and was associated with a high healing rate. Posterior transarticular screw fixation of C1-C2 was associated with a high success rate, including in elderly patients.
Therapeutic Level III. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.
1Department of Traumatology, General Hospital Klagenfurt, Academic Teaching Hospital of the University of Graz, Schlossmannstrasse 11, 40225 Düsseldorf, Germany. E-mail address for M.R. Konieczny: Markus@Konieczny.net. E-mail address for A. Gstrein: Arnold.Gstrein@lkh-klu.at. E-mail address for E.J. Müller: Ernst.Mueller@lkh-klu.at