[Therapy of cervical rheumatoid arthritis]

Z Rheumatol. 2004 Aug;63(4):303-11. doi: 10.1007/s00393-004-0642-z.
[Article in German]


The rheumatoid involvement of the cervical spine can be divided into three phases. In the early stage of the disease there is an isolated atlantoaxial subluxation (AAS), followed by vertical instability and subaxial instability. If patients show clear symptoms of cervical myelopathy, which can occur during any stage of the disease, the progression cannot be stopped by conservative treatment, which is of great importance at the beginning of the cervical manifestation. Patient education, physiotherapy and immobilization with a stiff collar can significantly reduce pain. Early and effective DMARD therapy can have a positive effect on the natural history of the disease. In case of progressive instability, cervical myelopathy or severe pain operative treatment is indicated. If there is an isolated AAS, fusion can be restricted to the C1/C2 segment. The Magerl transarticular screw fixation is the preferred technique for stabilization. If there is evidence for vertical instability or severe destruction of the C0/C1 joints, occipital cervical fusion has to be performed. Durin the preoperative planning it is necessary to look for signs of subaxial instability. If this is the case, fusion should include the entire cervical spine. Transoral decompression may be necessary when there is persistent anterior compression of the myelon, typically seen in fixed AAS. Non-ambulatory myelopathic patients are more likely to develop severe surgical complications. Therefore, it is important to avoid the development of severe cervical instability by early surgical intervention. The right timing for surgery is still a matter of controversy. Future prospective randomized trials should address this topic to improve the treatment concept for the rheumatoid patient.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / complications
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnosis
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy*
  • Braces
  • Cervical Vertebrae*
  • Humans
  • Immobilization
  • Joint Instability / diagnosis
  • Joint Instability / etiology
  • Joint Instability / therapy*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Spinal Cord Diseases / diagnosis
  • Spinal Cord Diseases / etiology
  • Spinal Cord Diseases / therapy*
  • Spinal Fusion / methods
  • Treatment Outcome