AO classification of subaxial injuries

Dr Craig Hacking and Dr Tim Luijkx et al.

The AO classification of subaxial injuries aims to simplify and universalise the classification of subaxial cervical spine fractures and improve interobserver and intraobserver reliability.

The AO subaxial cervical spine injury classification involves four criteria based on morphology, facet injury, neurologic status and case-specific modifiers.

First, injuries are categorised into three groups based on the region of injury: 

  • A: compression fracture of the vertebrae, without tension band (ligamentous) injury
  • B: disruption of anterior/posterior tension band(s), and subaxial osseous distraction without spinal misalignment (non-displaced)
  • C: displaced fracture, with translocation of one vertebral body relative to another in any direction

Type A injuries involve compression of the anterior structures or fractures of the spinal process that are mechanically insignificant

  • A0: no injury or an isolated injury such as a lamina or spinous process fracture
  • A1: compression fracture that only involves one endplate, but does not involve the vertebral body posterior wall
  • A2: split fracture that is orientated either coronal or pincer that includes both endplates, but does not involve the posterior wall
  • A3: incomplete burst fracture that only involves one endplate, any involvement of the posterior vertebral wall results in retropulsion of fragments
  • A4: complete burst fracture that involves both endplates

Type B injuries affect the tension bands anterior or posterior to the cervical spine. It should be noted that any type B injuries that also have translation are automatically type C injuries.

The anterior tension band includes the anterior longitudinal ligament, while the posterior tension band refers to a combination of osseous and ligamentous structures, including the supraspinous ligaments, interspinous ligaments, articular facet capsules, and ligamenta flava, collectively also known as the posterior ligamentous complex.

  • B1: posterior tension band injury (bony) with physical separation between fractured bony structures, anterior structures may also be included
  • B2: posterior tension band injury (bony, capsuloligamentous, ligamentous) with complete separation of the capsuloligamentous or bony capsuloligamentous structures of the posterior aspect. Again this can include anterior structures
  • B3: anterior tension band injury with physical separation between anterior structures with a persistent connection (tethering) of posterior structures

Type C injuries are translational injuries with displacement/translation in any direction from one vertebral body relative to another. Specific injuries should be categorised first, then referred to as a type C if there is any displacement of note, i.e. ‘type C, subtype A2’.

Type F injuries are to describe a range of facet joint injuries. In the context of multiple facet injuries, the highest class is used for classification. Bilateral on the same level; the right side is described first.

  • F1: non-displaced facet fracture (fragment size <1 cm; <40% lateral mass involvement)
  • F2: facet fracture that can become unstable (fragment size >1 cm; >40% lateral mass involvement or displacement)
  • F3: floating lateral mass due to disruption of pedicle and lamina
  • F4: subluxation that is pathologic or perched/dislocated facet
  • NX: undetermined
  • N0: neurological intact
  • N1: transient neurological injury: resolved on presentation or <24 hours after injury
  • N2: radiculopathy
  • N3: incomplete spinal cord injury
  • N4: complete spinal cord injury
  • M1: posterior capsuloligamentous injury without associated complete disruption, from a bony perspective the injury may seem stable, however, often seen on MRI the posterior ligaments are damaged
  • M2: critical disk herniation where the nucleus pulposus will be seen protruding posterior to a vertical line along the posterior border of the lowest injured vertebra
  • M3: stiffening/metabolic bone disease, e.g. ankylosing spondylitis, diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH)
  • M4: signs of vertebral artery injury
Fractures
Spinal trauma
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Article information

rID: 59573
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Osteosynthesefragen classification of subaxial injuries

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