Treatment Algorithm for Dens Fractures: Non-Halo Immobilization, Anterior Screw Fixation, or Posterior Transarticular C1-C2 Fixation
Markus R. Konieczny, MD; Arnold Gstrein, MD; Ernst J. Müller, MD


Background: The appropriate treatment of dens fractures is unclear. We established a staged treatment protocol for dens fractures and conducted a prospective study to evaluate the outcome of treatment based on this protocol.

Methods: We prospectively evaluated sixty-nine consecutive patients who presented to our institution with a dens fracture. The mean duration of follow-up was 9.7 months (range, six to fifty-eight months). Fractures were categorized as stable or unstable. Stable fractures were treated by immobilization in a rigid collar. Patients seventy-five years or older with unstable fractures, patients with a neurological deficit, and patients with Anderson and D’Alonzo type-III fractures underwent posterior transarticular C1-C2 stabilization. Unstable fractures in patients younger than seventy-five years were stabilized with direct anterior screw fixation. Thirty-one patients were treated with a Philadelphia collar, twenty-five with posterior transarticular fixation, and thirteen with direct anterior screw fixation.

Results: Fracture-healing or solid fusion of C1-C2 was documented in sixty-eight of sixty-nine treated patients at final follow-up. The remaining patient had a stable nonunion of the dens. Secondary procedures were performed in five patients.

Conclusions: Our treatment algorithm based on dens fracture type, fracture stability, and patient age was associated with a high success rate. Evaluating fracture stability is crucial when considering nonoperative treatment. External stabilization with a rigid cervical collar was adequate for stable fractures of the dens and was associated with a high healing rate. Posterior transarticular screw fixation of C1-C2 was associated with a high success rate, including in elderly patients.

Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level III. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.


  • Investigation performed at the Department of Traumatology, General Hospital Klagenfurt, Academic Teaching Hospital of the University of Graz, Düsseldorf, Germany

  • Disclosure: None of the authors received payments or services, either directly or indirectly (i.e., via his or her institution), from a third party in support of any aspect of this work. None of the authors, or their institution(s), have had any financial relationship, in the thirty-six months prior to submission of this work, with any entity in the biomedical arena that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. Also, no author has had any other relationships, or has engaged in any other activities, that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. The complete Disclosures of Potential Conflicts of Interest submitted by authors are always provided with the online version of the article.

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