Occipitocervical Fusion with Posterior Plate and Screw Instrumentation: A Long-term Follow-up Study

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Study Design.

Thirty-two patients at one institution underwent occipitocervical fusions with posterior plate and screw instrumentation. The average follow-up was greater than 4 years (50 months).


AO plates and screws were used and in more than 50% of the cases, the Magerl transarticular C1-C2 screw technique enhanced the occipitocervical instrumentation. In nine patients, cement was used and thus are excluded in evaluation of fusion results. All 23 patients attained solid fusions. No pseudarthrosis occurred. The average time to fusion was 13 weeks. Halos or traction immobilization was not used postoperatively. The average time of the simple orthosis wear was 11 weeks. Patients were out of bed on an average of the second postoperative day with a range of 1-4 days postoperatively. Reduction of the atlantoaxial joint was required in 10 of the 23 patients. At follow-up, nine remain reduced.


In one patient, the atlantodens interval approximated the preoperative distance and radiographs demonstrated one transarticular C1-C2 screw was not placed satisfactorily. The average operative time was 172 minutes, and the average blood loss was 956 cc. The neurologic status of the patients improved or remained the same. No patient deteriorated neurologi-cally. A total of 78 occipital screws were placed. No complications resulted from any of these screws. One intraoperative complication occurred secondary to massive bleeding after a transarticular screw hole was drilled. Bone wax was placed over the drill hole and the bleeding ceased. No postoperative problems occurred in this patient. Most specifically, no central nervous system sequela was evident.


The conclusions from this study are that posterior occipitocervical fusion can be performed very safely with plate and screw instrumentation. An extremely high fusion rate can be expected with minimal complications and minimal postoperative immobilization. This technique, however, is technically demanding.

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