Longer-Term Outcomes of Geriatric Odontoid Fracture Nonunion

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Longer-term outcomes of patients with geriatric type II odontoid fracture nonunion remain unclear.


Thirty-four consecutive geriatric patients (>70 years old) with minimally displaced (<50% displacement) type II odontoid fractures were treated 24 hours a day for 12 weeks with rigid collar immobilization between the years 2003 and 2011. Radiographic and medical record reviews were performed on all 34 patients. Additionally, 7 patients were available for clinical longer-term follow-up (>4 years).


In all, 30 (88%) of the 34 patients had nonunion after 12 weeks of treatment, 2 (6%) patients had union, and 2 (6%) patients died during the first 12 weeks. Twenty-one of the 30 patients with nonunion had a displaced or mobile nonunion (70%), and 4 (12%) patients were lost to follow-up. At longer-term follow-up, 23 (68%) patients had died. The average time death occurred was 3.8 years with a range of 0.17 years to 9.42 years postinjury. Twenty of the 23 deaths were attributed to medical comorbidities not related to the patient’s odontoid nonunion. We were unable to determine the cause of death in 3 patients. None of the patients who died had identifiable clinical myelopathy prior to their death on chart review. Of the 7 patients who were alive, all were determined to have odontoid nonunion, of which 5 (70%) were mobile odontoid nonunion. Visual Analog Scale (VAS) and Neck Disability Index (NDI) scores were low (VAS averaged 0.57 and NDI averaged 6.9%) and treatment satisfaction was high (averaged 9.7 of 10). Scores for pain and function did not differ significantly when compared to age-matched controls (P = .08, t test).


Rates of odontoid nonunion are high in patients with geriatric odontoid fractures that are treated with continuous rigid collar for 12 weeks. The majority of patients with nonunion appear to achieve high functional outcomes. In this study, mortality did not appear to be related to adverse neurologic events after treatment.

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