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Spinal instrumentation in infants, children, and adolescents: a review

JNSPG 75th Anniversary Invited Review Article

Stephen Mendenhall, Dillon Mobasser, Katherine Relyea and Andrew Jea


The evolution of pediatric spinal instrumentation has progressed in the last 70 years since the popularization of the Harrington rod showing the feasibility of placing spinal instrumentation into the pediatric spine. Although lacking in pediatric-specific spinal instrumentation, when possible, adult instrumentation techniques and tools have been adapted for the pediatric spine. A new generation of pediatric neurosurgeons with interest in complex spine disorder has pushed the field forward, while keeping the special nuances of the growing immature spine in mind. The authors sought to review their own experience with various types of spinal instrumentation in the pediatric spine and document the state of the art for pediatric spine surgery.


The authors retrospectively reviewed patients in their practice who underwent complex spine surgery. Patient demographics, operative data, and perioperative complications were recorded. At the same time, the authors surveyed the literature for spinal instrumentation techniques that have been utilized in the pediatric spine. The authors chronicle the past and present of pediatric spinal instrumentation, and speculate about its future.


The medical records of the first 361 patients who underwent 384 procedures involving spinal instrumentation from July 1, 2007, to May 31, 2018, were analyzed. The mean age at surgery was 12 years and 6 months (range 3 months to 21 years and 4 months). The types of spinal instrumentation utilized included occipital screws (94 cases); C1 lateral mass screws (115 cases); C2 pars/translaminar screws (143 cases); subaxial cervical lateral mass screws (95 cases); thoracic and lumbar spine traditional-trajectory and cortical-trajectory pedicle screws (234 cases); thoracic and lumbar sublaminar, subtransverse, and subcostal polyester bands (65 cases); S1 pedicle screws (103 cases); and S2 alar-iliac/iliac screws (56 cases). Complications related to spinal instrumentation included hardware-related skin breakdown (1.8%), infection (1.8%), proximal junctional kyphosis (1.0%), pseudarthroses (1.0%), screw malpositioning (0.5%), CSF leak (0.5%), hardware failure (0.5%), graft migration (0.3%), nerve root injury (0.3%), and vertebral artery injury (0.3%).


Pediatric neurosurgeons with an interest in complex spine disorders in children should develop a comprehensive armamentarium of safe techniques for placing rigid and nonrigid spinal instrumentation even in the smallest of children, with low complication rates. The authors’ review provides some benchmarks and outcomes for comparison, and furnishes a historical perspective of the past and future of pediatric spine surgery.