Atlanto-occipital instability is commonly treated with posterior fixation. However, in patients with congenital or acquired factors, posterior fixation may not be possible. For these situations, a novel anterior atlanto-occipital transarticular screw (AATS) fixation technique has been introduced recently. However, biomechanical study of this technique is lacking. This study was designed to evaluate the biomechanical stability of AATS fixation for the atlanto-occipital joint and compare it with conventional posterior occipitocervical fixation (POCF).
Six cadaveric specimens (occiput–C4) were tested in four conditions, including intact, injury, injury + AATS, and injury + POCF states. A pure moment of 1.5 Nm was applied to specimens in flexion, extension, lateral bending, and axial rotation. The range of motion (ROM) and neutral zone (NZ) were calculated and compared from the occiput to C1.
The AATS fixation constrained ROMs to 0.4° in flexion (p < 0.001), 0.4° in extension (p < 0.001), 1.0° in lateral bending (p < 0.001), and 0.7° in axial rotation (p < 0.001) when compared with the injury state. In all directions, there was no statistically significant difference observed in ROMs and NZs between AATS fixation and POCF (p > 0.05).
This study identified that the novel AATS fixation, as stand-alone anterior fixation, was equivalent to POCF in all directions. The results suggest that anterior transarticular screw fixation is a biomechanically effective salvage technique for posterior atlanto-occipital fixation, and may also serve as supplemental fixation.