This study was undertaken to compare surgical outcomes between patients with atlantoaxial versus subaxial cervical synovial cysts (CSCs) and to compare outcomes between patients who underwent decompression alone versus decompression and fusion for the treatment of CSCs.
The authors present a series of 17 cases involving patients treated at their institution and report the surgical outcomes. Due to the rarity of CSCs, a meta-analysis was conducted, and results of the literature search were combined with the case series to enhance the power of the study.
Seventeen patients underwent surgical treatment for CSCs at our institution: 3 patients (17.6%) had atlantoaxial cysts and 14 (82.3%) had subaxial cysts. Of the 17 patients, 16 underwent a decompression and fusion; most patients experienced symptom resolution at last follow-up, and there were no cyst recurrences. A total of 54 articles (including the current series) and 101 patients were included in the meta-analysis. The mean age at presentation was 64 ± 13.9 years, and the most common symptoms were motor and sensory deficits. Forty-one patients (40.6%) presented with atlantoaxial cysts, and 60 (59.4%) with subaxial cysts. There were no significant differences between groups in terms of presenting symptoms, Nurick scores, surgical treatment, or surgical outcomes. Fifty-two patients (51.4%) underwent surgical decompression without fusion, while 49 patients (48.6%) underwent fusion. The preoperative Nurick scores were significantly lower in the fused group (p = 0.001), with an average score of 1.32 compared with 2.75 in the nonfused group. After a mean follow-up of 16.5 months, a difference of means analysis between final and preoperative Nurick scores revealed that patients who received a decompression alone improved on average 1.66 points (95% CI 1.03–2.29) compared with 0.8 points (95% CI 0.23–1.39) in the fused group (p = 0.004). However, there was no statistically significant difference in symptom resolution between the groups, and the rate of cyst recurrence was found to be 0%.
In this study, patients with CSCs had similar outcomes regardless of cyst location and regardless of whether they underwent decompression only or fusion. In the authors' institutional experience, 16 of 17 patients underwent fusion due to underlying spinal instability. While there were no reports of cyst recurrence in their series or in the literature in patients who only received decompression, this is likely due to the limited follow-up time available for the study population. Longer follow-up and prospective and biomechanical studies are needed to corroborate these findings.