Os odontoideum

Curtis J. Rozzelle, Bizhan Aarabi, Sanjay S. Dhall, Daniel E. Gelb, R. John Hurlbert, Timothy C. Ryken, Nicholas Theodore, Beverly C. Walters, Mark N. Hadley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Plain cervical spine radiographs appear adequate to make a diagnosis of os odontoideum in the vast majority of patients with this disorder. Lateral flexion and extension radiographs can provide useful information regarding C1-C2 instability. Tomography (CT or plain) may be helpful to define the osseous relationships at the skull base, C1, and C2 in patients in whom the craniovertebral junction is not well visualized on plain radiographs. The degree of C1-C2 instability identified on cervical X-rays does not correlate with the presence of myelopathy. A sagittal diameter of the spinal canal at the C1-C2 level of,13 mm does correlate with myelopathy detected on clinical examination. MRI can depict spinal cord compression and signal changes within the cord that correlate with the presence of myelopathy. Surgical treatment is not required for every patient in whom os odontoideumis identified. Patients who have no neurological deficit and no instability at C1-C2 on flexion and extension studies can be managed without operative intervention. Even patients with documented C1-C2 instability and neurological deficits have been managed nonoperatively without clinical consequence during finite follow-up periods. Most investigators who study and treat this disorder favor operative stabilization and fusion of C1-C2 instability associated with os odontoideum. The concern exists that patients with os odontoideum with C1-C2 instability have an increased likelihood of future spinal cord injury. Although not supported by Class I or Class II medical evidence fromthe literature,multiple case series (Class III medical evidence) suggest that stabilization and fusion of C1-C2 is meritorious in this circumstance. Because a patientwith an initially stable os odontoideumhas been reported to develop delayed C1-C2 instability and because there are examples of patients with untreated stable os odontoideum who have developed neurological deficits following minor trauma, surgical consideration and longitudinal clinical and radiographic surveillance of patients with os odontoideum without instability are recommended. Posterior C1-C2 internal fixation with arthrodesis in the treatment of os odontoideum provides effective stabilization of the atlantoaxial joint in the majority of patients. Posterior wiring and fusion techniques supplemented with postoperative halo immobilization provided successful fusion in 40% to 100% of cases reported. Rigid internal screw fixation and fusion appear to have merit in the treatment of C1-C2 instability in association with os odontoideum and appear to obviate the need for postoperative halo immobilization. Neural compression in association with os odontoideum has been treated with a reduction of deformity, dorsal decompression of irreducible deformity, and ventral decompression of irreducible deformity, each in conjunction with C1-C2 or occipital cervical fusion with internal fixation. Each of these combined approaches has provided satisfactory results. Odontoid screw fixation has no role in the treatment of this disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-169
Number of pages11
Issue numberSUPPL.2
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • C1-C2 instability
  • Clinical surveillance
  • Internal fixation and fusion
  • Os odontoideum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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