Lateral mass screws (LMS) have been used extensively with a low complication rate in the subaxial spine. Recently, cervical pedicle screws (CPS) have been introduced, and are thought to provide more optimal stabilization of the subaxial spine in certain circumstances. However, because of the concern for neurovascular injury, the routine use of CPS in this location remains controversial. Despite this controversy, however, there are no articles directly comparing screw-related complications of each procedure in the subaxial cervical spine. The purpose of this study was to evaluate screw-related complications of LMS and CPS in the subaxial cervical spine.
A PubMed/MEDLINE and Cochrane Collaboration Library search was executed, using the key words “lateral mass screw” and “cervical pedicle screw.” Clinical studies evaluating surgical procedures of the subaxial cervical spine in which either LMS or CPS were used and complications were reported were included. Studies in which the number of patients who had subaxial cervical spine surgery and the number of screws placed from C-3 to C-7 could not be specified were excluded. Data on screw-related complications of each study were recorded and compared.
Ten studies of LMS and 12 studies of CPS were included in the analysis. Vertebral artery injuries were slightly but statistically significantly higher with the use of CPS relative to LMS in the subaxial cervical spine. Although the use of LMS was associated with a higher rate of screw loosening, screw pullout, loss of reduction, pseudarthrosis, and revision surgery, this finding was not statistically significant.
Based on the available literature, it appears that perioperative neurological and late biomechanical complication rates, including pseudarthrosis, are similarly low for both LMS and CPS techniques. In contrast, vertebral artery injuries, although statistically significantly more common when using CPS, are extremely rare with both techniques, which may justify their nonroutine use in select cases. Given the paucity of well-designed studies available, this recommendation may be a reflection of deficiencies in the available studies. Surgeons using either technique should have intimate knowledge of cervical anatomy and an adequate preoperative evaluation for each patient, with the final selection based on individual case requirements and anatomical limitations.