Vertebral Artery Injury during Routine Posterior Cervical Exposure: Case Reports and Review of Literature

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Study Design

Case series.


We report the unusual occurrence of vertebral artery injury (VAI) during routine posterior exposure of the cervical spine. The importance of preoperative planning to identify the course of the bilateral vertebral arteries during routine posterior cervical spine surgery is emphasized.


VAI is a rare but potentially devastating complication of cervical spinal surgery. Most reports of VAI are related to anterior surgical exposure or screw placement in the posterior cervical spine. VAI incurred during posterior cervical spinal exposure surgery is not adequately addressed in the existing literature. Two cases of VAI that occurred during routine posterior exposure of the cervical spine in the region of C2 are described.


VAI was incurred unexpectedly in the region of the midportion of the posterior C1-C2 interval during the initial surgical exposure phase of the operation. An aberrant vertebral artery course in the V2 anatomical section in the region between C1 and C2 intervals was identified postoperatively in both patients. A literature review demonstrates a relatively high incidence of vertebral artery anomalies in the upper cervical spine; however, the literature is deficient in reporting vertebral artery injury in this region. Recommendations for preoperative vertebral artery imaging also remain unclear at this time.


Successful management of this unexpected complication was achieved in both cases. This case report and review of the literature highlights the importance of preoperative vertebral artery imaging and knowledge of the course of the vertebral arteries prior to planned routine posterior exposure of the upper cervical spine. In both cases, aberrancy of the vertebral artery was present and not investigated or detected preoperatively.

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