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Arnold H. Menezes


Hindbrain herniation syndrome, or Chiari malformation Type I (CM-I), occurs frequently with craniovertebral junction (CVJ) abnormalities when there is reduction in the posterior fossa volume. Syringomyelia is often present. Posterior fossa dorsal decompression (PFDD) is typically performed but has adverse results when ventral bone abnormality exists. This paper presents the results of a prospective study on CVJ abnormalities in patients with CM-I and syringomyelia.


Between 1984 and 2008 (the MR imaging era), 298 patients with CVJ abnormalities and CM-I underwent ventral cervicomedullary decompression. Eighty-four patients had associated syringomyelia (15 with secondary invagination and 69 with primary basilar invagination, os odontoideum, or malunion of fractures). Of these 84 patients with CVJ abnormalities, CM-I, and syringomyelia, 46 had previously undergone PFDD, and 28 had previously undergone PFDD combined with fusion procedures or shunt placements. Of the 84 patients, a cervicothoracic syrinx was observed in 57, thoracic syrinx in 14, and holocord syrinx in 13. Studies included CT, MR imaging, and cine flow studies. All 298 patients who underwent ventral CVJ decompression had irreducible or partially reducible pathology. All 84 with syringomyelia showed brainstem dysfunction, lower cranial nerve symptoms, or myelopathy.


Brainstem signs improved in 66 of the 84 patients, myelopathy improved in 58, and syringomyelia regressed in 64.


Neurological improvement and syringomyelia resolution can occur using only ventral cervicomedullary junction decompression in patients with basilar invagination and basilar impression. This is likely due to the relief of neural encroachment and reestablishment of CSF pathways.

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Arnold H. Menezes

The surgical management of craniovertebral junction (CVJ) instability in pediatric patients presents unique challenges. As compared with the adult patient, the anatomical variations of the CVJ in the pediatric patient are significant, complicate the approach, and limit the use of internal fixation. Diminutive osseous and ligamentous structures and syndromic craniovertebral abnormalities complicate the issue. Advances in imaging analysis and instrumentation have improved the armamentarium for managing the pediatric patient who requires craniocervical stabilization. In this paper, the author's experience of performing more than 850 pediatric CVJ fusions is reviewed. This work includes the indications for atlantoaxial arthrodesis and occipitocervical fusion. Early atlantoaxial fusions were performed using interlaminar rib graft fusion, and more recently using either transarticular screw fixation in the older patient, or lateral mass screws at C-1 and rod fixation with either C-2 pars interarticular screw fixation or pedicle screw fixation. A C-2 translaminar screw fixation is also described. Occipitocervical fusions are performed with rib grafts in patients younger than 6 years of age. Subsequently, above that age, contoured loop fixation was performed, and in the past 8–10 years, screw and rod fixation was used. Abnormal spine growth was not observed in children who underwent craniocervical stabilization below the age of 5 years (clearly the bone grew with the patient). However, no deleterious effects were noted in the children treated with rigid instrumentation. The success rate for bone fusion alone was 98%. The author's success rate with rigid instrumentation is nearly 100%. A detailed review of the technique of fusion is presented, as well as the indications and means of avoidance of complications, their prevention, and management.

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Evaluation and treatment of congenital and developmental anomalies of the cervical spine

Invited submission from the Joint Section Meeting on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves, March 2004

Arnold H. Menezes

✓ Congenital and developmental osseous abnormalities of the cervical spine can result in neural compression ranging from the medulla oblongata to the cervicothoracic spinal cord junction. These may present in infancy as scoliosis and even limb weakness. A high index of suspicion is essential. Neurodiagnostic imaging relies on high-resolution computerized tomography (CT) scanning and three-dimensional CT reconstructions as well as magnetic resonance imaging and angiography. The anatomical/physiological CT factors considered when developing a surgical approach are: 1) the stability and reducibility of the lesions; 2) direction and manner of encroachment of the lesion on the neural structures; 3) neural and vascular abnormalities; and 4) growth potential of the affected area. Primary stabilization is required for reducible lesions, whereas irreducible lesions are decompressed in the manner in which encroachment has occurred. Instability, whether present before or after operative intervention, required spinal stabilization. Illustrative examples of this approach are presented.

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Arnold H. Menezes

Os odontoideum is an uncommon craniovertebral junction (CVJ) abnormality that exists as a separate ossicle apart from a hypoplastic dens. It usually moves with the clivus or the anterior arch of C-1 (dystopic) or rarely with the dens (orthotopic). Its genesis and natural history have been debated, and its proper treatment remains uncertain.

Two hundred and sixty patients, with symptomatic os odontoideum, were evaluated by the author over a 20-year period; the author performed surgery in 134 of these patients. In a prospective study the author evaluated the early childhood history of trauma, the dynamic studies of motion, and the effects of traction by using pleuridirectional tomography, computerized tomography (CT), CT myelography and magnetic resonance (MR) imaging. Operative findings were documented.

Early childhood trauma to the CVJ was recorded in 74 patients, in 30 of whom normal odontoid processes were documented at initial examination prior to the patient reaching age 4 years.

Acute neurological deterioration following trauma occurred in 63 of 134 patients. Symptoms were insidious in 71 of 134 patients. In six patients, who presented with acute neurological deterioration after trauma and in whom an abnormal spinal cord signal in the cervicomedullary junction was demonstrated on MR imaging, normal CVJ motion dynamics were shown. Motion dynamics varied and were unique to each patient. Irreducible ventral CVJ disease causing cervicomedullary compromise occurred in 28 patients in whom a transpharyngeal ventral decompressive procedure was necessitated. During the transoral operation, the transverse portion of the cruciate ligament was found to be located anterior to the axis body. All patients required dorsal CVJ arthrodesis, which, in 46, was limited to the C1-2 segment. Instability at the C1-2 joints was always multidirectional, as demonstrated on preoperative neuroimaging studies as well as at operation.

Sixteen patients presented after completed primary C1-2 dorsal fusion and with worsening deficits. They improved when the range of the fusion was extended to the occiput or if the ventrally located lesion was excised.

Os odontoideum is associated with early childhood trauma and is an acquired phenomenon. The presence of abnormal motion dynamics necessitates surgical intervention as do associated neurological deficits. Asymptomatic patients in whom os odontoideum is incidentally discovered and in whom no abnormal motion dynamics are demonstrated should be followed closely.

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John G. Piper and Arnold H. Menezes

✓ Primary and metastatic tumors of the axis vertebra pose difficult surgical problems. The authors report 14 cases of patients with axis tumors who underwent surgery between 1970 and 1993. The eight male and six female patients ranged in age from 9 to 70 years (mean 46 years). Presenting symptoms and signs included pain in 12, myelopathy in nine, radiculopathy in four, and cranial nerve deficits in two patients. Preoperative instability of the cervical spine was present in eight patients.

The goal of surgery was to achieve diagnosis, decompression, and stabilization; the choice of operative intervention was based on tumor location and patient prognosis. Six transoral—transpalatal resections, two lateral extrapharyngeal approaches, four posterolateral decompressions, and 11 dorsal decompressions were performed. Eleven fusion procedures were required to achieve spinal stability. Patients with aggressive tumors requiring concomitant radiotherapy underwent fusion using contoured loop instrumentation or methyl methacrylate, whereas those with benign lesions underwent fusion using traditional techniques. With maximum medical and surgical intervention, 10 patients are alive and their tumors are in remission. In eight of these 10 patients, gross-total resection was achieved. Four patients died from tumor progression, and in three of these cases gross-total resection was not possible. There were no operative deaths and morbidity was minimal.

Development of new surgical approaches to the axis has allowed resection of previously inoperable tumors. The extent of resection correlated with the duration of survival. A classification system for axis tumors is proposed to facilitate selection of appropriate surgical approaches that will maximize the extent of resection while achieving or maintaining spinal stability.

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Paul D. Sawin and Arnold H. Menezes

✓ Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) is a heritable disorder of bone development caused by defective collagen synthesis. Basilar invagination is an uncommon but devastating complication of this disease. The authors present a comprehensive strategy for management of craniovertebral anomalies associated with OI and related osteochondrodysplasias.

Twenty-five patients with congenital osteochondrodysplasias (18 OI, four Hajdu—Cheney syndrome, and three spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia) and basilar invagination were evaluated between 1985 and 1995. The male/female ratio in this cohort was 1:1. The mean age at presentation was 11.9 years (range 13 months–20 years). Fourteen patients (56%) presented during adolescence (11–15 years of age). Symptoms and signs included headache (76%), lower cranial nerve dysfunction (68%), hyperreflexia (56%), quadriparesis (48%), ataxia (32%), nystagmus (28%), and scoliosis (20%). Four patients (16%) were asymptomatic. Seven (28%) had undergone previous posterior fossa decompression; one had also undergone ventral decompression. Imaging findings included basilar invagination (100%), ventral brainstem compression (84%), hydrocephalus (32%), hindbrain herniation (28%), and syringomyelia/syringobulbia (16%).

Patients with hydrocephalus underwent ventricular shunt placement. Reducible basilar invagination (40%) was treated with posterior fossa decompression and occipitocervical fusion. Those with irreducible ventral compression (60%) underwent transoral—transpalatopharyngeal decompression followed by occipitocervical fusion. All patients improved initially. However, basilar invagination progressed radiographically in 80% (symptomatic in 24%) despite successful fusion. Prolonged external orthotic immobilization with the modified Minerva brace afforded symptomatic improvement and arrested progression of the deformity. The mean follow-up period was 5.9 years (range 1.1–10.5 years).

Ventral brainstem compression in OI should be treated with ventral decompression, followed by occipitocervical fusion with contoured loop instrumentation to prevent further squamooccipital infolding. Despite fusion, however, basilar invagination tends to progress. Prolonged immobilization (particularly during adolescence) may stabilize symptoms and halt further invagination. This study represents the largest series to date addressing craniovertebral anomalies in OI and related congenital bone softening disorders.

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Timothy C. Ryken and Arnold H. Menezes

✓ Six patients with achondroplasia and symptoms suggestive of cervicomedullary junction compression are reviewed; these included three females and three males, with an average age of 8 years (range 7 months to 30 years). The mean duration of symptoms prior to intervention was 1.9 years. Symptoms included occipitocervical pain, ataxia, incontinence, apnea, and respiratory arrest. Radiological investigations consisted of plain films with flexion and extension views, pluridirectional tomography, thin-section computerized tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging. Typical findings included marked foramen magnum stenosis, ventrolateral cervicomedullary junction compression secondary to central and paramesial basilar invagination, and dorsal cervicomedullary junction compression secondary to ligamentous hypertrophy and invagination of the posterior atlantal arch. All patients underwent posterior fossa decompression and atlantal laminectomy. Surgery consistently revealed marked dorsal and paramesial overgrowth of the rim of the foramen magnum, with thickening and invagination of the atlantal posterior arch and a dense fibrotic epidural band resulting in dorsal cervicomedullary compression. Intraoperative ultrasonography was used to determine the extent of decompression required.

Three patients required duraplasty. Three patients had concurrent hydrocephalus, two of whom had undergone ventriculoperitoneal shunting prior to surgical decompression of the posterior fossa. One patient developed a pseudomeningocele postoperatively, requiring serial lumbar punctures before it resolved. No patient developed craniovertebral instability following decompression. Improvement or resolution of symptoms was noted in all patients, with an average follow-up period of 4.8 years. Thus, cervicomedullary compression in patients with achondroplasia can be successfully treated with dorsal decompression of the craniovertebral junction. Dense epidural fibrotic bands are frequently noted in these cases and must be aggressively released to ensure satisfactory decompression.

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Arnold H. Menezes and John C. VanGilder

✓ The anterior transoral-transpharyngeal operation to correct ventral irreducible compression of the cervicomedullary junction was utilized in 72 individuals. The patients' ages ranged from 6 to 82 years, and 29 were children. The pathology encountered was primary basilar invagination, rheumatoid irreducible cranial settling, secondary basilar invagination due to migration of odontoid fracture fragments, dystopic os odontoideum, granulation masses, clivus chordoma, osteoblastoma, and chondroma of the atlas. Fifteen patients had associated Chiari malformation with basilar invagination. Fifty-two patients required subsequent atlantoaxial or occipitocervical fusion. Neurological improvement was the rule. There were two deaths within 30 days of surgery: one from myocardial infarction 4 weeks after surgery and one from Gram-negative septicemia of urinary tract origin. There was one pharyngeal wound infection. The ventral transoral approach provides a safe, rapid, and effective means for decompression of the abnormal craniovertebral junction.

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Raheel Ahmed and Arnold H. Menezes

Clinical presentation of craniovertebral junction disorders may range from acute catastrophic neurological deficits to insidious signs and symptoms that may mask the underlying etiology. Prompt recognition and treatment is essential to avert long-term neurological morbidity. Proatlas segmentation disorders are a rare group of developmental disorders involving the craniocervical junction. Abnormal bony segmentation leads to malformed bony structures that can in turn lead to neurological deficits through bony compression of the cervicomedullary junction. This report details a proatlas segmentation defect presenting as palatal myoclonus, a rare movement disorder. The clinical presentation, surgical management, and neuroanatomical basis for the disorder is presented. This report highlights the myriad clinical presentations of craniovertebral disorders and emphasizes a rare but treatable etiology for palatal myoclonus.

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Nader S. Dahdaleh and Arnold H. Menezes

The combination of unilateral trigeminal and vagal nerve dysfunction is a rare presentation in patients with Chiari malformation Type I (CM-I). The authors present a case of incomplete lateral medullary syndrome in a patient with CM-I. The patient's symptoms of decreased unilateral facial sensitivity to pain and temperature and her vocal cord dysfunction reversed after posterior fossa decompression and intradural exploration. Although rare, clinicians should be aware of this presentation as part of a protean spectrum of symptoms in patients with CM-I.