BACKGROUND: Occipitocervical junction instability can lead to serious neurological injury or death. Open surgical fixation is often necessary to provide definitive stabilization. However, long-term results are limited to small case series.
OBJECTIVE: To review the causes of occipitocervical instability, discuss the indications for surgical intervention, and evaluate long-term surgical outcomes after occipitocervical fixation.
METHODS: The charts of all patients undergoing posterior surgical fixation of the occipitocervical junction by the senior author were retrospectively reviewed. A total of 120 consecutive patients were identified for analysis. Patient demographic characteristics, occipitocervical junction pathology, surgical indications, and clinical and radiographic outcomes are reported.
RESULTS: The study population consisted of 64 male and 56 female patients with a mean age of 39.9 years (range, 7 months to 88 years). Trauma was the most common cause of instability, occurring in 56 patients (47%). Ninety patients (75%) were treated with screw/rod constructs; wiring was used in 30 patients (25%). The median number of fixated segments was 5 (O-C4). Structural bone grafts were implanted in all patients (100%). Preoperative neurological deficits were present in 83 patients (69%); 91% of those patients improved with surgery. Mean follow-up was 35.1 +/- 27.4 months (range, 0-123 months). Two patients died, and 10 were lost to follow-up before the end of the 6-month follow-up period. Fusion was confirmed in the remaining 107 patients (89.1%). The overall complication rate was 10%, including 3 patients with vertebral artery injuries and 2 patients who required revision surgery.
CONCLUSION: Occipitocervical C fixation is a durable treatment option with acceptable morbidity for patients with occipitocervical instability.
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