Cervical myelopathy is a rare but potentially dangerous complication of rheumatoid arthritis and presents considerable therapeutic problems. A conservative approach carries high mortality and surgical intervention is not without serious risks. Reduction of subluxation and posterior fusion is widely practised but may require prolonged bed rest and continuous skull traction, sometimes for many weeks. When anterior decompression has been attempted prolonged immobilisation and external fixation have created problems. In this series 23 rheumatoid patients with cervical myelopathy were investigated over a four-year period. Seventeen underwent anterior decompression of the cervical cord, of whom 14 had a transoral removal of the odontoid peg and pannus and posterior occipitocervical fusion during the same anaesthetic without mortality or serious postoperative complications; all but one have improved. The authors believe that early mobilisation after a combined cord decompression and internal fixation has reduced the mortality and morbidity. Management of cervical myelopathy in rheumatoid arthritis and indications for operation are discussed.
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