Heiko Koller, Klaus Kolb, Juliane Zenner, Jeremy Reynolds, Marcel Dvorak, Frank Acosta, Rosemarie Forstner, Michael Mayer, Mark Tauber, Alexander Auffarth, Anton Kathrein, Wolfgang Hitzl


November 2009, Volume 18, Issue 11, pp 1659 - 1668 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-009-1134-2

First Online: 28 August 2009

In odontoid fracture research, outcome can be evaluated based on validated questionnaires, based on functional outcome in terms of atlantoaxial and total neck rotation, and based on the treatment-related union rate. Data on clinical and functional outcome are still sparse. In contrast, there is abundant information on union rates, although, frequently the rates differ widely. Odontoid union is the most frequently assessed outcome parameter and therefore it is imperative to investigate the interobserver reliability of fusion assessment using radiographs compared to CT scans. Our objective was to identify the diagnostic accuracy of plain radiographs in detecting union and non-union after odontoid fractures and compare this to CT scans as the standard of reference. Complete sets of biplanar plain radiographs and CT scans of 21 patients treated for odontoid fractures were subjected to interobserver assessment of fusion. Image sets were presented to 18 international observers with a mean experience in fusion assessment of 10.7 years. Patients selected had complete radiographic follow-up at a mean of 63.3 ± 53 months. Mean age of the patients at follow-up was 68.2 years. We calculated interobserver agreement of the diagnostic assessment using radiographs compared to using CT scans, as well as the sensitivity and specificity of the radiographic assessment. Agreement on the fusion status using radiographs compared to CT scans ranged between 62 and 90% depending on the observer. Concerning the assessment of non-union and fusion, the mean specificity was 62% and mean sensitivity was 77%. Statistical analysis revealed an agreement of 80–100% in 48% of cases only, between the biplanar radiographs and the reconstructed CT scans. In 50% of patients assessed there was an agreement of less than 80%. The mean sensitivity and specificity values indicate that radiographs are not a reliable measure to indicate odontoid fracture union or non-union. Regarding experience in years of all observers taking part in the study, there were no significant differences for specificity (P = 0.88) or sensitivity (P = 0.26). Further analysis revealed that if a non-union was judged present by an observer then, on average, each observer changed decision regarding the presence of a ‘stable’ or ‘unstable non-union’ in 4.2 of all the 21 cases (range 0–8 changes per observer). We investigated the interobserver reliability of the assessment of fusion in odontoid fractures using biplanar radiographs compared to CT scans. A sensitivity of 77% and a specificity of 62% for the radiographs resemble a substantial lack of agreement if different observers evaluate odontoid union. Biplanar radiographs are judged not a reliable measure to detect odontoid fracture union or non-union. The union rates of odontoid fractures have to be revisited and CT scans as the endpoint anchor in outcome studies of treatment related union rates are recommended.


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