Surgical Treatment of Dens Fractures in Elderly Patients

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Background: A dens fracture is the most common cervical fracture in elderly patients. The purposes of this study were to analyze the functional and radiographic results after surgical treatment of dens fractures in patients over sixty-five years of age and to compare the two methods that were used for operative treatment.Methods: We reviewed the cases of fifty-six patients, with an average age of 71.4 years at the time of surgery, who had undergone surgical treatment of a dens fracture from 1988 to 2002. Thirty-seven fractures were stabilized with anterior screw fixation, and nineteen fractures had posterior cervical arthrodesis.Results: Forty-five patients returned to their preinjury activity level and were satisfied with their treatment. Thirty-five patients had a full range of neck movement, and forty-seven patients were free of pain. Technical failures occurred in eight patients. The thirty-seven patients treated with anterior screw fixation had a good clinical outcome, with fracture-healing in thirty-three patients (89%) and technical failure in five patients (14%). All nineteen patients treated with posterior cervical arthrodesis had fracture union, with technical failure in three patients, but the functional results were worse than those after anterior screw fixation. With the inclusion of the six patients who had been excluded from the clinical and radiographic review, the overall morbidity rate was 16% (ten of sixty-two patients) and the overall mortality rate was 6% (four of sixty-two patients).Conclusions: A satisfactory outcome can be achieved with surgical treatment of a dens fracture in geriatric patients. It appears that anterior screw fixation may maintain better mobility of the cervical spine, but it appears to be associated with a higher rate of fracture nonunion and a greater potential for reoperation.Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level III. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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