Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

Institutional members access full text with Ovid®

Treatment of Stable Burst Fracture of the Atlas (Jefferson Fracture) With Rigid Cervical Collar

Lee, Thomas T., MD; Green, Barth A., MD, FACS; Petrin, David R., RN

Cervical Spine

Study Design. A retrospective review of a clinical series.

Objective. To evaluate the use of a rigid cervical collar alone as the treatment for stable Jefferson fracture, and to devise an algorithm for treatment of Jefferson fracture with or without an associated cervical injury.

Summary of Background Data. The traditional treatment for Jefferson fracture, if there is no indication for surgery, is immobilization by halo vesst. Because halo vest placement is associated with intracranial infection and a significant degree if patient discomfort, slightly less rigid forms of external immobilization may be useful for the treatment of stable Jefferson fractures. No standard protocol calling for the use of one form of stabilization device has been reported.

Materials. The medical records and radiographs of 16 consecutive patients with Jefferson fracture during a 2-year period were reviewed. Each patient underwent a complete cervical radiograph series and a computed tomographic scan. The mean C1 lateral mass displacement was 1.8 mm. Cervical spine radiographs, including lateral flexion-extension views were obtained 10 to 12 weeks after injury before the removal of an external immobilization device.

Results. Of these 16 patients, 1 sustained a complete injury, and 7 sustained an incomplete injury. Eight patients were neurologically intact. Twelve patients sustained a stable Jefferson fracture and were treated with a rigid cervical collar (Miami-J collar [Jerome Medical, Moorestown, NJ]) alone from 10 to 12 weeks. The patient sustaining the complete neurologic injury died of multisystem trauma. All 15 live patients showed no instability on their follow-up plain radiographs before the removal of an external stabilization device. Six patients underwent further plain radiographs approximately 1 year after the fracture and similarly demonstrated no instability.

Conclusions. Isolated stable burst fracture of the atlas can be treated effectively with a rigid cervical collar alone for 10 to 12 weeks with good neurologic recovery and segmental stability. Unstable Jefferson fractures with concurrent unstable fracture of other cervical vertebrae, especially C2, requires surgical stabilization.

From the Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Miami School of Medicine, Florida.

Acknowledgment date: September 22, 1997.

Acceptance date: March 5, 1998.

Device status category: 9.

Address reprint requests to: Thomas T. Lee, MD; Department of Neurological Surgery; University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center; PO Box 016960 (M813); Miami, FL 33101; E-mail:

© 1998 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins