The treatment of craniocervical instability in children is often challenging due to their small spine bones, complex anatomy, and unique syndromes. The authors discuss their surgical experience with 33 cases in the treatment of 31 children (≤17 years of age) with craniocervical spine instability using smaller nontraditional titanium screws and plates, as well as intraoperative CT.
All craniocervical fusion procedures were performed using intraoperative fluoroscopic imaging and electrophysiological monitoring. Nontraditional spine hardware included smaller screw sizes (2.4 and 2.7 mm) from the orthopedic hand/foot set and mandibular plates. Twenty-three of the 33 surgical procedures were performed with intraoperative CT, which was used to confirm adequate position of the spine hardware and alignment of the spine.
The mean patient age was 9.5 years (range 2–17 years). Eleven children underwent a posterior C1–2 transarticular screw fusion, 17 had an occipitocervical fusion, and 3 had a posterior subaxial cervical fusion. The follow-up duration ranged from 9 to 72 months (mean 53 months). All children demonstrated successful fusion at their 3-month follow-up visit, except 1 patient whose unilateral C1–2 transarticular screw fusion required a repeat surgery before proper fusion was achieved. Of the 47 C1–2 transarticular screws that were placed, 13 were 2.4 mm, 15 were 2.7 mm, 7 were 3.5 mm, and 12 were 4.0 mm. Eighteen of the 47 C1–2 transarticular screws were suboptimally placed. Eleven of these misplaced screws were removed and redirected within the same operation because these surgeries benefitted from the use of intraoperative CT; 6 of the 7 remaining suboptimally placed screws were left in place because a second surgery for screw replacement was not warranted. The other suboptimally placed C1–2 screw was replaced during a repeat operation due to failure of fusion. Use of intraoperative CT was invaluable because it enabled the authors to reposition suboptimal C1–2 transarticular screws without necessitating a second operation.
Successful craniocervical fusion procedures were achieved using smaller nontraditional titanium screws and plates. Intraoperative CT was a helpful adjunct for confirming and readjusting the trajectory of the screws prior to leaving the operating room, which decreases overall treatment costs and reduces complications.