Cervical spine involvement early in the course of rheumatoid arthritis

Maria Del Grande, Filippo Del Grande, John Carrino, Clifton O. Bingham, Grant H. Louie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Objectives: Cervical spine involvement in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is considered a feature of long-standing disease. We describe two patients who presented with cervical symptoms as early features of RA. Methods: We report two RA cases with cervical spine involvement as early features and use MEDLINE to review the literature concerning the frequency and disease duration of this manifestation and its imaging with plain radiography, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Results: An 80-year-old man with cervical myelopathy from a C1-C2 rheumatoid pannus underwent decompression surgery before development of peripheral synovitis from RA. A 63-year-old woman presented with neck pain and polyarthritis at RA diagnosis, with imaging that confirmed a C1-C2 rheumatoid pannus. Onset of cervical spine involvement in RA is generally after 10 years of disease duration, ranging from 3 months to 45 years after peripheral synovitis among patients with seropositive erosive RA. Occurring in 9-88% of RA patients, cervical spine involvement may result in cervical instability due to either mechanical compression or vascular impairment of the spinal cord. Bone erosions and atlanto-axial subluxation on standard radiographs are two major signs of cervical spine involvement in RA. MRI identifies earlier signs of RA and has a higher sensitivity in detecting bone erosions compared to conventional radiography. Conclusions: Cervical spine involvement in RA is not an uncommon condition but is rare at early disease onset. Symptoms of cervical pain and myelopathy should prompt a thorough neurological examination accompanied by imaging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)738-744
Number of pages7
JournalSeminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Cervical spine
  • Imaging
  • MRI
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Subluxation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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