Previously published in Spine, Volume 33, Number 16, pp 1744–1749. Permission to republish granted by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Study Design: Case series. Objective: To describe survival and outcomes after occipitocervical dissociation injuries. Summary of Background Data: Historically, occipitocervical dissociation injuries have a high rate of associated neurologic deficit with a relatively high incidence of mortality. Methods: Six patients with occipitocervical dissociation injuries are reported and their management and imaging findings reviewed. Possible contributory factors for survival are discussed. Results: All patients had upper neck and head dissociation injuries. The pattern of injury in all of these cases included a distraction type mechanism. All cases demonstrated soft tissue disruption in the zone of injury, which was consistent and apparent on all imaging studies. In these patients, the extent and severity of injury was more apparent on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) than on radiograph or computed tomography scan. Management of these injuries included immobilization followed by surgery with particular care taken to avoid application of distraction forces to the neck. Conclusion: Patients with occipitocervical dissociation injuries may survive their injury and even retain neurologic integrity. Initial in-line head stabilization is emphasized to prevent catastrophic neurologic injury. The resting osseous relationships and vertebral alignment at the time of imaging evaluation may be deceivingly normal, and the damage often primarily or exclusively involves disruption of the perivertebral soft tissue structures. Prevertebral soft tissue swelling was apparent in all cases. For these injuries that involve primarily damage to the ligamentous structures, MRI seems to be the optimal test for revealing the magnitude of the injury.