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This article is the author’s final published version in Journal of neurosurgery. Spine, Volume 36, Issue 1, September 2021, Pages 99 - 112.

The published version is available at Copyright © Barry Ting Sheen Kweh et al.


Objective: Optimal management of A3 and A4 cervical spine fractures, as defined by the AO Spine Subaxial Injury Classification System, remains controversial. The objectives of this study were to determine whether significant management variations exist with respect to 1) fracture location across the upper, middle, and lower subaxial cervical spine and 2) geographic region, experience, or specialty.

Methods: A survey was internationally distributed to 272 AO Spine members across six geographic regions (North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East). Participants' management of A3 and A4 subaxial cervical fractures across cervical regions was assessed in four clinical scenarios. Key characteristics considered in the vignettes included degree of neurological deficit, pain severity, cervical spine stability, presence of comorbidities, and fitness for surgery. Respondents were also directly asked about their preferences for operative management and misalignment acceptance across the subaxial cervical spine.

Results: In total, 155 (57.0%) participants completed the survey. Pooled analysis demonstrated that surgeons were more likely to offer operative intervention for both A3 (p < 0.001) and A4 (p < 0.001) fractures located at the cervicothoracic junction compared with fractures at the upper or middle subaxial cervical regions. There were no significant variations in management for junctional incomplete (p = 0.116) or complete (p = 0.342) burst fractures between geographic regions. Surgeons with more than 10 years of experience were more likely to operatively manage A3 (p < 0.001) and A4 (p < 0.001) fractures than their younger counterparts. Neurosurgeons were more likely to offer surgical stabilization of A3 (p < 0.001) and A4 (p < 0.001) fractures than their orthopedic colleagues. Clinicians from both specialties agreed regarding their preference for fixation of lower junctional A3 (p = 0.866) and A4 (p = 0.368) fractures. Overall, surgical fixation was recommended more often for A4 than A3 fractures in all four scenarios (p < 0.001).

Conclusions: The subaxial cervical spine should not be considered a single unified entity. Both A3 and A4 fracture subtypes were more likely to be surgically managed at the cervicothoracic junction than the upper or middle subaxial cervical regions. The authors also determined that treatment strategies for A3 and A4 subaxial cervical spine fractures varied significantly, with the latter demonstrating a greater likelihood of operative management. These findings should be reflected in future subaxial cervical spine trauma algorithms.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.