Long-term incidence of subaxial cervical spine instability following cervical arthrodesis surgery in patients with rheumatoid arthritis

Michelle J. Clarke, Aaron A. Cohen-Gadol, Michael J. Ebersold, Miguel E. Cabanela

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Objective: Cervical spine deformities are well-known complications of RA. A 5- to 20-year follow-up of 51 consecutive rheumatoid patients who underwent posterior cervical arthrodesis is presented to evaluate the recurrence of instability and need for further surgery. Methods: We conducted a retrospective review of the clinical features of 11 men and 40 women with an established diagnosis of RA and associated cervical deformities who underwent cervical spine surgery at the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN) between 1979 and 1990. Their mean age was 61 ± 10 years (SD), and their duration of RA averaged 21 ± 8.9 years (SD). There were 22 patients who presented with myelopathy, 7 with radiculopathy, and 22 with instability/neck pain. There were 33 patients with AAS, 2 with SMO process into the foramen magnum, 8 with SAS, and 8 with combinations of these. Preoperative reduction was followed by decompression and fusion using wiring techniques and autologous bone graft. Postoperative halo orthosis was provided for at least 3 months. The mean follow-up was 8.3 ± 6 years (SD). Results: There were 31 patients (61%) who underwent atlantoaxial arthrodesis, 17 patients (33%) who underwent subaxial, and 3 patients (6%) who underwent occipitocervical arthrodesis. During follow-up, 39% (13/33) of patients with AAS developed nonsymptomatic (6) or symptomatic/unstable (7) SASs subsequent to C1-C2 fusion. The latter 7 patients (21%) subsequently required extension of their arthrodesis. Adjacent segment disease was most common at the C3-C4 interspace after atlantoaxial fusion in 62% (8/13). Among the 8 patients who underwent isolated cervical fusion for SAS, 1 patient (1/8, 12%) developed adjacent instability after a fall and required extension of the previous fusion. No secondary procedure was required for the 6 patients initially stabilized by C1-(C6-T1) fusions for combinations of AAS + SAS. None of the patients initially treated by C1-C2 arthrodesis for AAS progressed to SMO. Conclusions: The incidence of subaxial instability in patients with rheumatoid disease who underwent cervical arthrodesis may be higher than previously reported, indicating the need for continued follow-up in these patients. Adjacent segment disease may be most common at the C3-C4 level following atlantoaxial fusion. Early stabilization of the C1-C2 complex in the patients with AAS may potentially prevent progression of SMO.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-140
Number of pages5
JournalSurgical Neurology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2006


  • Adjacent segment disease
  • Cervical spine
  • Posterior arthrodesis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Surgical treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


Dive into the research topics of 'Long-term incidence of subaxial cervical spine instability following cervical arthrodesis surgery in patients with rheumatoid arthritis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this