The long-term effects of instrumentation and fusion of the occipital-cervical-thoracic spine on spinal growth in young children are poorly understood. To mitigate the effects of this surgery on the growing pediatric spine, the authors report a novel technique used in 4 children with severe cervical-thoracic instability. These patients underwent instrumentation from the occiput to the upper thoracic region for stabilization, but without bone graft at the craniovertebral junction (CVJ). Subsequent surgery was then performed to remove the occipital instrumentation, thereby allowing further growth and increased motion across the CVJ.
Three very young children (15, 30, and 30 months old) underwent occipital to thoracic posterior segmental instrumentation due to cervical or upper thoracic dislocation, progressive kyphosis, and myelopathy. The fourth child (10 years old) underwent similar instrumentation for progressive cervical-thoracic scoliosis. Bone graft was placed at and distal to C-2 only. After follow-up CT scans demonstrated posterior arthrodesis without unintended fusion from the occiput to C-2, 3 patients underwent removal of the occipital instrumentation.
Follow-up cervical spine flexion/extension radiographs demonstrated partial restoration of motion at the CVJ. One patient has not had the occipital instrumentation removed yet, because only 4 months have elapsed since her operation.
Temporary fixation to the occiput provides increased biomechanical stability for spinal stabilization in young children, without permanently eliminating motion and growth at the CVJ. This technique can be considered in children who require longer instrumentation constructs for temporary stabilization, but who only need fusion in more limited areas where spinal instability exists.