Operative management of bilateral facet dislocation

A. Wolf, L. Levi, S. Mirvis, J. Ragheb, S. Huhn, D. Rigamonti, W. L. Robinson

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Fifty-two patients with acute traumatic bilateral locked facets were treated at one trauma center during a 3 1/2 -year period (July, 1987, to December, 1990). The patients presented with complete motor quadriplegia (34 cases), incomplete myelopathy (13 cases), or intact long-tract function (five cases). The injuries occurred at C2-3 (one patient, with intact function), C4-5 (12 patients), C5-6 (16 patients), C6-7 (19 patients), and C7-T1 (four patients). Immediate traction (with increasing weight and serial x-ray studies) and/or induction of general anesthesia and muscle relaxation reduced the dislocation in 40 patients, but 12 needed prompt operative reduction as their injuries failed to reduce within 4 hours. Stabilization was indicated for all patients, but three did not undergo surgery: two elderly patients with complete injuries (one refused surgery and one died), and one patient with multiple injuries (fusion was achieved by halo-vest immobilization for 3 months). Of the 49 patients treated operatively, 23 (44.2%) underwent surgery on the day of injury and 26 on a delayed basis (mean 8.7 days postinjury). Surgical treatment included fusion of the posterior facet to a spinous process (44 cases), an anterior Caspar plate technique (three cases), and both procedures (two cases). Of these 49 patients, three (6.1%) with complete injuries died due to an adult respiratory distress syndrome. Improvement of cord function, judged by functional grade change, was observed at discharge in 15 patients (31.9%) and in 15 (71.4%) of the 21 patients with a 1-year follow-up period. Of the 34 patients with complete myelopathy on admission, three are ambulatory after 1 year, and 13 others have gained function in at least one nerve root. It is concluded that prompt reduction (nonoperative or surgical) and internal stabilization facilitate recovery even in neurologically compromised patients, and that early operative intervention is a wiser option than conservative management. This report also documents a higher incidence of this injury without deficit (five of the 52 cases) than reported in other series.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)883-890
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of neurosurgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1991


  • cervical spine
  • facet
  • fracture- dislocation
  • instrumentation
  • spinal cord injury
  • spinal fusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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