Rigid spine

Last revised by Joachim Feger on 9 Sep 2021

A rigid spine is a condition that is characterized by the ossification and/or fusion of spinal segments thus leading to a change in biomechanics. The shock absorption capabilities of normal intervertebral discs, as well as the elasticity of ligaments, is eliminated thus making the rigid spine more to fracture. A rigid spine can develop in the following clinical conditions 1:

Clinical importance

A rigid spine can alter the management in the setting of spinal fractures and is recognized as a modifier in the AO Spine classification system 1,2.

  • ankylosing spondylitis
    • prone to transdiscal fractures often as a result of hyperextension injuries
    • often located in the cervical spine
  • diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis
    • prone to hyperextension and translational injury
    • often located at the thoracolumbar junction or lower cervical spine
  • degenerative spondylosis
    • more often transvertebral fractures
    • often located where spondylosis is present e.g. in the cervical and lumbar spine
  • surgically fused spine
    • increased fracture risk at the junctional zone (up to 3 vertebrae) to the fused segments
    • prone to transverse fractures and compression fractures

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