Management and Outcome of Dens Fracture Nonunions in Geriatric Patients

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Background:Dens fractures are known to have high rates of pseudarthrosis. The aim of this study was to define clinical and radiographic long-term outcomes, specifically in relation to osseous union, cervical spine movement, neurological sequelae, and quality of life, in a geriatric cohort (sixty-five years of age or older) treated operatively or nonoperatively for a dens fracture nonunion.Methods:Forty-four patients (twenty-eight women and sixteen men; average age, seventy-two years) met the inclusion criteria and were enrolled in this study. Sixteen patients (36%) underwent operative stabilization with posterior cervical arthrodesis, and twenty-eight (64%) were treated nonoperatively with a predefined protocol. All patients had a post-treatment follow-up period of at least five years.Results:Radiographic evaluation showed osseous union at the site of the C1-C2 arthrodesis in all sixteen patients who had undergone surgical treatment. Clinical follow-up revealed that fourteen had satisfactory results following postoperative rehabilitation. In contrast, radiographic evaluation of the twenty-eight nonoperatively treated patients showed persistence of the pseudarthrosis of the dens in twenty-six and osseous union of the dens in two. All twenty-eight patients (100%) had a satisfactory clinical outcome.Conclusions:C1-C2 arthrodesis was a reliable treatment option for dens fracture nonunions that were unstable, those associated with neurological symptoms, and those causing persistent pain. Clinical and radiographic monitoring was an acceptable nonoperative treatment option but was associated with a very low rate of osseous union of the dens.Level of Evidence:Therapeutic Level III. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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