Rigid occipitocervical fixation: indications, outcomes, and complications in the modern era

Rigid occipitocervical fixation- indications, outcomes, and complications in the modern era

J Neurosurg Spine 18:333–339, 2013

Over the past 40 years, various methods and instrumentation types have been developed for occipitocervical fixation (OCF) in the management of occipitocervical instability. This study reports indications, outcomes, and complications with rigid OCF using screw-rod and screw-plate instrumentation, which has comparatively less long-term data.

Methods. A prospectively maintained database identified 100 consecutive patients who underwent rigid OCF in a single unit over a period of 13 years. Patient demographics, clinical indications, pre- and postoperative radiographic findings, neck disability indices (NDIs), myelopathy disability indices (MDIs), visual analog scale (VAS) scores, and Ranawat scores were recorded. Complications including instrumentation failure were also documented.

Results. Underlying etiologies included rheumatoid arthritis (RA; 41%), tumor (16%), trauma (15%), congenital etiologies (14%), metabolic (6%) and inflammatory (6%) conditions, and infection (2%). The pre- and postoperative MDI and VAS scores for neck pain showed significant improvements in the RA group (MDI 64.5% vs 42.5%, p = 0.02; mean VAS 7.5 of 10 vs 3.7 of 10, p < 0.001). Improvements in MDI and NDI outcome measures were also seen in the trauma and tumor categories. Overall, there were 4 cases of instrumentation failure; all included broken rods in the stress riser region of occipitocervical rod curvature, and 1 patient also had occipital plate screw pullout. Other complications included 5 wound infections requiring wound washout, 1 vertebral artery injury (no clinical sequelae), and 1 perioperative death due to myocardial infarction.

Conclusions. Rigid OCF is a safe and effective method of managing occipitocervical instability due to a variety of causes. Outcome measures are favorable, and patients with chronically debilitating diseases such as RA may benefit in terms of improvements in neurological deficit and neck pain. The complication profile is comparable to that reported in other series of OCF in the literature, as well as to the previously used semirigid type of rod/sublaminar wire fixation.