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Unrecognized Spinal Instability Associated with Seemingly “Simple” Cervical Compression Fractures


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This paper described 27 patients who had seemingly stable compression cervical vertebral fractures. All were treated in cervicothoracic orthoses. None was initially treated in a Halo device or with surgery. Twenty patients were stable and healed without progressive displacement, angulation, or pain. One patient demonstrated an angular deformity, which spontaneously stabilized within six months with anterior bony ankylosis in a kyphotic position. Six patients demonstrated persistant progressive post-injury instability related to posterior ligament rupture. As muscle spasm diminished, the patients could be given a more reliable flexion-extension radiographic examination, unmasking the hidden posterior instability. Five of the six who demonstrated this instability were disabled because of pain. Two of the six patients were treated with a two-segment fusion. The other four have had fusion recommended and are currently being followed clinically. This paper emphasizes the need for better initial criteria of potential instability and close follow-up of patients with simple compression fractures of the cervical spine.

Division of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation, Department of Surgery, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Springfield, Illinois.

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