Hematogenous pyogenic facet joint infection of the subaxial cervical spine. A report of two cases and review of the literature

J Neurosurg. 2001 Jul;95(1 Suppl):135-8. doi: 10.3171/spi.2001.95.1.0135.


Two cases of hematogenous, pyogenic, subaxial cervical facet joint infection are reported, and the literature is reviewed. Infection of the cervical facet joint is a rarely diagnosed condition; only one case has been reported in the literature. Lumbar facet joint infections are also rare but more commonly reported. Approximately one fourth of facet joint infections in the lumbar spine are complicated by epidural abscess formation, which can lead to a neurological deficit. Because of the paucity of reports on cervical facet joint infections, the clinical characteristics of this entity are not well known. Both patients presented with an acute onset of unilateral neck pain that radiated into the ipsilateral shoulder. Frank radicular pain was initially absent. Unilateral upper-extremity motor weakness that was attributed to associated epidural abscess or granulation tissue formation was also demonstrated in both patients. Leukocyte count and erythrocyte sedimentation rate were elevated in both cases. Magnetic resonance imaging was necessary to obtain an accurate diagnosis. Staphylococcus aureus was identified as the offending pathogen in both cases. Decompressive surgery and antibiotic therapy were required to cure the condition. One patient recovered completely and the other sustained a permanent motor deficit. Hematogenous cervical facet joint infection is a rare clinical entity that has many characteristics in common with the more-common lumbar homolog. All three reported cases, however, have been complicated by epidural abscess or granulation tissue formation that has led to a neurological deficit. This finding suggests that a facet joint infection in the cervical spine may have a less benign clinical course than that in the lumbar spine.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Bacteremia / diagnosis
  • Bacteremia / surgery*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / pathology
  • Cervical Vertebrae / surgery*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Epidural Abscess / diagnosis
  • Epidural Abscess / surgery*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Laminectomy
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myelography
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Postoperative Complications / diagnosis
  • Recurrence
  • Spinal Cord Compression / diagnosis
  • Spinal Cord Compression / surgery
  • Spinal Diseases / diagnosis
  • Spinal Diseases / surgery*
  • Staphylococcal Infections / diagnosis
  • Staphylococcal Infections / surgery*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed