Mediterr J Rheumatol 2021;32(3):256-63
A not-to-miss Cause of Severe Cervical Spine Pain in a Patient with Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Case-Based Review
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Rheumatology Clinic, Department of Internal Medicine, Medical School, University of Ioannina, Ioannina, Greece


Background: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may affect any diarthrodial joint with a predilection on the peripheral skeleton in a symmetrical manner. When the axial skeleton is affected, it is the cervical spine (CS) that gets involved with potentially detrimental effects, if not treated promptly. Case: A 60-year-old female suffering from RA presented with severe neck pain and stiffness, difficulty of standing and walking with brisk tendon reflexes, Babinski sign positive, and clonus. Despite the high inflammatory markers and high titres of autoantibodies (rheumatoid factor and anticitrullinated protein antibodies), she never received proper treatment. She was using only paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Conventional radiography (CR) of CS showed extensive degenerative changes affecting the C3-C5 vertebral level. Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the neck showed sub-axial subluxation (SAS) and spinal cord compression at C3 level, and to a lesser extent, in other levels. A multi-level cervical laminectomy and spinal cord decompression were deployed with good results. To this end, literature review was performed until September 2020 and showed that the frequency of radiological findings varies substantially, ranging between 0,7-95% in different studies. The most common radiological feature is the atlanto-axial subluxation (AAS) followed by SAS. Because CS involvement can often be clinically asymptomatic, its assessment should not be forgotten by physicians and should be assessed using CR, which is an easy-to-perform technique and gives important information as a screening tool. On the other hand, RA patients need to be treated in a prompt and efficient manner in order to avoid any potentially fatal complications.

Cite this article as: Drosos AA, Pelechas E, Georgiadis AN, Voulgari PVV. A not-to-miss Cause of Severe Cervical Spine Pain in a Patient with Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Case-Based Review. Mediterr J Rheumatol 2021;32(3):256-63.

Article Submitted: 28 Dec 2020; Article Accepted: 10 Feb 2021; Available Online: 25 Aug 2021


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. 

©Drosos AA, Pelechas E, Georgiadis AN, Voulgari PVV.