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  • Author or Editor: L. Fernando Gonzalez x
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L. Fernando Gonzalez, Jeffrey D. Klopfenstein, Neil R. Crawford, Curtis A. Dickman and Volker K. H. Sonntag

✓ Occipitoatlantal dislocation and atlantoaxial vertical distraction are caused by similar mechanisms, and few individuals survive these injuries. It is hypothesized that the injurious vertical force manifests as a traumatic lesion at different levels of the same ligamentous complex. The authors report the cases of two patients who presented with this combined lesion, describe surgical alternatives for stabilization, and introduce a new technique that combines the use of transarticular screws in a “dual” construct, without involving the unaffected spine.

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L. Fernando Gonzalez, Neil R. Crawford, Robert H. Chamberlain, Luis E. Perez Garza, Mark C. Preul, Volker K. H. Sonntag and Curtis A. Dickman

Object. The authors compared the biomechanical stability resulting from the use of a new technique for occipitoatlantal motion segment fixation with an established method and assessed the additional stability provided by combining the two techniques.

Methods. Specimens were loaded using nonconstraining pure moments while recording the three-dimensional angular movement at occiput (Oc)—C1 and C1–2. Specimens were tested intact and after destabilization and fixation as follows: 1) Oc—C1 transarticular screws plus C1–2 transarticular screws; 2) occipitocervical transarticular (OCTA) plate in which C1–2 transarticular screws attach to a loop from Oc to C-2; and (3) OCTA plate plus Oc—C1 transarticular screws.

Occipitoatlantal transarticular screws reduced motion to well within the normal range. The OCTA loop and transarticular screws allowed a very small neutral zone, elastic zone, and range of motion during lateral bending and axial rotation. The transarticular screws, however, were less effective than the OCTA loop in resisting flexion and extension.

Conclusions. Biomechanically, Oc—C1 transarticular screws performed well enough to be considered as an alternative for Oc—C1 fixation, especially when instability at C1–2 is minimal. Techniques for augmenting these screws posteriorly by using a wired bone graft buttress, as is currently undertaken with C1–2 transarticular screws, may be needed for optimal performance.

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Nicholas C. Bambakidis, Iman Feiz-Erfan, Eric M. Horn, L. Fernando Gonzalez, Seungwon Baek, K. Zafer Yüksel, Anna G. U. Brantley, Volker K. H. Sonntag and Neil R. Crawford


The stability provided by 3 occipitoatlantal fixation techniques (occiput [Oc]–C1 transarticular screws, occipital keel screws rigidly interconnected with C-1 lateral mass screws, and suboccipital/sublaminar wired contoured rod) were compared.


Seven human cadaveric specimens received transarticular screws and 7 received occipital keel–C1 lateral mass screws. All specimens later underwent contoured rod fixation. All conditions were studied with and without placement of a structural graft wired between the skull base and C-1 lamina. Specimens were loaded quasistatically using pure moments to induce flexion, extension, lateral bending, and axial rotation while recording segmental motion optoelectronically. Flexibility was measured immediately postoperatively and after 10,000 cycles of fatigue.


Application of Oc–C1 transarticular screws, with a wired graft, reduced the mean range of motion (ROM) to 3% of normal. Occipital keel–C1 lateral mass screws (also with graft) offered less stability than transarticular screws during extension and lateral bending (p < 0.02), reducing ROM to 17% of normal. The wired contoured rod reduced motion to 31% of normal, providing significantly less stability than either screw fixation technique. Fatigue increased motion in constructs fitted with transarticular screws, keel screws/lateral mass screw constructs, and contoured wired rods, by means of 19, 5, and 26%, respectively. In all constructs, adding a structural graft significantly improved stability, but the extent depended on the loading direction.


Assuming the presence of mild C1–2 instability, Oc–C1 transarticular screws and occipital keel–C1 lateral mass screws are approximately equivalent in performance for occipitoatlantal stabilization in promoting fusion. A posteriorly wired contoured rod is less likely to provide a good fusion environment because of less stabilizing potential and a greater likelihood of loosening with fatigue.

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L. Fernando Gonzalez, David Fiorella, Neil R. Crawford, Robert C. Wallace, Iman Feiz-Erfan, Denise Drumm, Stephen M. Papadopoulos and Volker K.H. Sonntag

Object. The authors sought to establish radiological criteria for the diagnosis of C1–2 vertical distraction injuries.

Methods. Conventional radiography, computerized tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance (MR) imaging findings in five patients with a C1–2 vertical distraction injury were correlated with their clinical history, operative findings, and autopsy findings. The basion—dens interval (BDI) and the C-1 and C-2 lateral mass interval (LMI) were measured in 93 control patients who underwent CT angiography; these measurements were used to define the normal BDI and LMI. The MR imaging results obtained in 30 healthy individuals were used to characterize the normal signal intensity of the C1–2 joint. The MR imaging results were compared with MR images obtained in five patients with distraction injuries.

In the 93 patients, the BDI averaged 4.7 mm (standard deviation [SD] 1.7 mm, range 0.6–9 mm) and the LMI averaged 1.7 mm (SD 0.48 mm, range 0.7–3.3 mm). Based on CT scanning in the five patients with distraction injuries, the BDIs (mean 11.9 mm, SD 3.2 mm; p < 0.001) and LMIs (mean 5.5 mm, SD 2 mm; p < 0.0001) were significantly greater than in the control group. Fast—spin echo inversion-recovery MR images obtained in these five patients revealed markedly increased signal distributed throughout the C1–2 lateral mass articulations bilaterally.

Conclusions. In 95% of healthy individuals, the LMI ranged between 0.7 and 2.6 mm. An LMI greater than 2.6 mm indicates the possibility of a distraction injury, which can be confirmed using MR imaging. Patients with a suspected C1–2 distraction injury may be candidates for surgical fusion of C1–2.