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Management of Operative Complications Related to Occipitocervical Instrumentation

Ahmed, Raheel MD, PhD; Menezes, Arnold H. MD

doi: 10.1227/NEU.0b013e31827bf512

BACKGROUND: The continued evolution of instrumentation techniques for fusions at the craniovertebral junction has enabled surgical treatment of a wide range of developmental, neoplastic, traumatic, and degenerative conditions. There has been an increased recognition of the morbidity associated with the complications secondary to occipitocervical instrumentation.

OBJECTIVE: To present representative complications secondary to occipitocervical instrumentation in patients who presented to our institution and to emphasize underlying principles in diagnosis and management of craniovertebral disease conditions through illustrative examples of their presentation, management, and follow-up.

METHODS: Clinical records for patients referred to the senior author (A.H.M.) between 2005 and 2010 for evaluation and management of their symptoms arising as a consequence of surgical intervention by a different primary neurosurgeon were reviewed.

RESULTS: Eight patients were identified with representative complications secondary to occipitocervical instrumentation. These complications included incorrect surgical technique, persistent instability, hardware misplacement with potential for vascular injury, associated neural injury, and secondary complications of wound healing resulting from methyl methacrylate use. Surgical revision was required in 2 patients. The remaining patients improved with removal of the offending hardware and acrylic cement. All patients reported symptom resolution, and dynamic imaging studies on follow-up indicated stable alignment and bony fusion.

CONCLUSION: These cases serve as illustrative examples of the spectrum of neural, vascular, biomechanical, and instrument-related complications associated with occipitocervical arthrodesis. Basic principles of occipitocervical instrumentation that enable safe and successful treatment of craniovertebral junction disease conditions have been highlighted. Potential complications and management strategies are discussed.

ABBREVIATION: VAS, Visual Analog Scale

Department of Neurosurgery, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City, Iowa

Correspondence: Arnold H. Menezes, MD, Professor and Vice Chairman, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, 200 Hawkins Dr, 1824 JPP, Iowa City, IA 52242. E-mail:

Received July 18, 2012

Accepted October 17, 2012

Copyright © by the Congress of Neurological Surgeons