Non-union is one of the main complications of single- or multi-level cervical spine fusion, considerably impairing functional results. The aim of this study was to evaluate the respective contributions of imaging examinations in the diagnostic process, the challenge being to avoid inappropriate surgery and unnecessary complementary examinations.
Material and method
A retrospective multicenter study included all patients managed for cervical spine non-union between 2008 and 2018. We evaluated the imaging examinations performed on each patient and determined signs of non-union in each image.
The study included 45 patients in 4 centers: 55% female; mean age, of 48±8.0 years; 57% smokers. Systematic static radiography showed signs of non-union in 55% of cases. Dynamic X-ray was performed in 34% of patients, and showed hypermobility of the level in 80% of cases. CT supported diagnosis of non-union in 97% of cases, and MRI in 48%. SPECT-CT was positive in all cases of non-union.
Dynamic X-ray is rarely prescribed, but frequently provided an objective measure of hypermobility of the level in non-union, justifying first-line use. Millimetric-slice CT was reliable for diagnosis. MRI is relevant only once diagnosis has been made, as part of preoperative work-up. Nuclear imaging can be useful in order to solve doubtful cases.
In suspected cervical spine non-union, we recommend dynamic X-rays (flexion/extension) and CT-scan as first-line diagnosis examinations.
Level of evidence
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Keywords : Non-union, Spine, Fusion