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Conservative and Operative Treatment in Extension Teardrop Fractures of the Axis

Hu, Yong MD; Kepler, Christopher K. MD, MBA; Albert, Todd J. MD; Hann, Shannon MD; Ma, Wei-Hu MD; Yuan, Zhen-Shan MD; Dong, Wei-Xin MD; Xu, Rong-Ming MD

doi: 10.1097/BSD.0b013e31828984f9

Study Design: A retrospective case series describing teardrop fracture of the axis.

Object: The purpose of the study was to clarify the clinical features, the mechanism of injury, and the potential instability of extension teardrop fractures of the axis, so as to emphasize the importance of recognizing this injury as a separate entity.

Summary of Background Data: Teardrop fractures of the axis are rare spinal fractures, comprising only a small percentage of all injuries of the cervical spine. The stability of this fracture pattern has been a matter of debate leading to controversy regarding treatment strategies and the need for stabilization.

Methods: We retrospectively reviewed data collected from 16 patients to document the mechanism of injury, neurological deficit, treatment and clinical outcome, and imaging findings.

Results: Extension teardrop fractures accounted for approximately 8.9% of the upper cervical spinal injuries and 12.7% of axis fractures at the authors’ institution over the same period. Six patients (4 males and 2 females) underwent surgery (4 by an anterior approach, 2 by a posterior approach). Ten cases underwent Halo-vest immobilization for a period between 6 and 12 weeks. At final follow-up, 14 cases achieved excellent results, whereas 2 patients complained of mild residual neck pain. Maximum cranial–caudal dimensions of the fragments were between 5 and 24 mm (average, 12.9 mm), and the transverse dimensions were between 5 and 22 mm (average, 11.1 mm). Fragment displacement ranged from 1 to 9 mm (average, 3.5 mm), whereas fragment rotation ranged from 10 to 52 degrees (average, 24.4 degrees) in the sagittal plane.

Conclusions: Most patients with an extension teardrop fracture of the axis can be treated conservatively. On the basis of this case series, the authors suggest that large fragment size, displacement or angulation, intervertebral disk injury, neurologic deficit, or signs of instability are reasonable indications for surgical treatment.

*Department of Spinal Surgery, Ningbo No. 6 Hospital, NingBo, People’s Republic of China

Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Thomas Jefferson University & Rothman Institute, Philadelphia, PA

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Yong Hu, MD, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, NingBo No. 6 Hospital, NingBo 315040, People’s Republic of China (e-mail:

Received November 14, 2012

Accepted January 18, 2013

© 2016 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.