Occipitocervical Fixation: A Single Surgeon’s Experience With 120 Patients


Neurosurgery 79:549–560, 2016

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 6 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 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 fixation is a durable treatment option with acceptable morbidity for patients with occipitocervical instability.

Complications of occipitocervical fusion: a 316 cases retrospective analysis

Occipito-cervical fusion

Eur Spine J (2014) 23:1720–1724

Disorders in occipitocervical region are difficult to treat. Complications often occur after fusion surgery and may be life-threatening in severe cases. This study is to investigate the causes and treatment strategies for the postoperative complications of occipitocervical fusion.

Methods Between May 1985 and May 2011, 316 patients with various occipitocervical diseases underwent occipitocervical surgery, with or without internal fixation. Two physicians were assigned for patients follow-up. Their medical records and radiographs were reviewed and the postoperative complications, including those at the occipitocervical region and donor site, were analyzed.

Results Three hundred cases were followed up from 24 months to 26 years with an average of 9 years and 8 months, and the follow-up rate was 94.9 %. There were 16 cases with complications after surgery in the uninstrumented fusion group; the incidence was 33.3 %. These included 11 patients (22.9 %) with complications in occipitocervical region and five patients (11.9 %) with donor-site complications. 45 complications presented in the instrumented fusion group, the incidence was 17.9 %. These included 30 patients (11.9 %) with complications in occipitocervical region and 15 patients (5.9 %) with donorsite complications. Perioperative complications included vertebral artery injury, spinal cord injury, nerve root injury, suffocation, cerebrospinal fluid leakage, and infection. Mid- to long-term complications included bone-graft displacement or absorption, aggravated vertebral dislocation, improper screw placement, spinous process fracture, and internal fixation breakage. Donor-site complications were hematoma, pain and infection.

Conclusion The surgery of occipitocervical fusion carries a relative high risk for complications, especially if no instrumentation is used. The key points in reducing complications are the surgeon’s familiarity with the anatomy of occipitocervical region and the appropriate internal fixation.