Evaluation and treatment of atlas burst fractures (Jefferson fractures)

J Neurosurg. 1991 Aug;75(2):213-20. doi: 10.3171/jns.1991.75.2.0213.


Although several large series of atlas fractures have been reported recently, none has concentrated on the evaluation and treatment of atlas burst fractures (Jefferson fractures). The treatment of this fracture is challenging. Its diagnosis may easily be missed due to concerns about associated trauma and absence of neurological signs. In addition, the open-mouth anteroposterior x-ray study, which is usually pathognomonic for the diagnosis, is often inadequate or not obtained. In order to clarify the diagnosis and treatment of this disorder, 17 cases of Jefferson fracture treated between 1982 and 1989 at the Louisiana State University Affiliated Hospitals are presented. The diagnosis was delayed in three patients because of a low index of suspicion and inadequate x-ray films. Four patients were noted to have unstable Jefferson fractures, all of these had an associated Type II odontoid fracture and were treated with occiput-C-2 wiring and fusion. The remainder of the patients had stable Jefferson fractures and were managed with Minerva jackets or rigid collar stabilization. No significant complications related to the treatment of the Jefferson fracture occurred in this series. One patient died from associated injuries; however, the remaining patients enjoyed an excellent long-term result with the acquisition of spinal stability and the resolution of subjective complaints.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cervical Atlas / injuries*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiography
  • Spinal Fractures / diagnostic imaging*
  • Spinal Fractures / therapy
  • Spinal Fusion