Anterior decompression and plate fixation in fracture dislocations of the lower cervical spine

M. Laus, G. Pignatti, D. Tigani, C. Alfonso, A. Giunti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Surgical treatment of unstable traumatic injuries of the cervical spine can be carried out by a posterior or anterior approach, with different advantages and disadvantages. Twenty patients were treated with anterior decompression, interbody fusion with autogenous iliac bone graft, and osteosynthesis with a Louis anterior plate. The screws were inserted in the vertebral body without reaching the posterior vertebral wall. There were 18 male and 2 female patients, aged between 18 and 66 years (average 36 years). The osteoarticular lesion was in 8 cases a tear-drop fracture and in 12 a fracture-dislocation. The mechanisms of injury were flexion-compression, flexion-rotation, hyperflexion, and hyperextension. A complete spinal cord lesion was present in 10 cases, central cord syndrome in 5, isolated radiculopathy in 3, and anterior cord syndrome in 1; one patient had normal neurological function. At long-term follow-up fusion of the graft was observed in all cases without evidence of spinal malalignment, breakage of the implant, or aseptic hardware loosening. Neurological deterioration was not observed in any case. In one case, complicated by late infection, healing was uneventful after plate removal, surgical debridement, and antibiotic therapy. A fistula of the hypopharynx due to perforation of the piriform recess appeared following repeated bronchoscopy 12 months after surgery. There were no signs of implant loosening and the lesion was surgically repaired. From a neurological point of view the 10 patients with complete cord lesion remained unchanged; those with incomplete cord lesions improved by 1 or 2 degrees on the Frankel scale; those with isolated radiculopathies recovered fully; and the neurologically intact patient remained unchanged. The present study and the data reported in the literature prove that anterior surgery with plate fixation in cervical spine injuries allows the achievement of complete neural decompression by direct visual examination. On the other hand, posterior surgery can result in incomplete decompression and associated neurological deterioration. Anterior plate instrumentation has proved itself mechanically adequate, even if it is less stable than posterior constructs. The advantages of anterior surgery compared to those of posterior surgery are such that several specific risks are acceptable. Posterior surgery is nevertheless indicated if the lesion cannot be reduced preoperatively under closed conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-88
Number of pages7
JournalEuropean Spine Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1993


  • Anterior decompression
  • Lower cervical spine injuries
  • Plate fixation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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