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Chibawanye I. Ene, Anthony C. Wang, Kelly L. Collins, Robert H. Bonow, Lynn B. McGrath, Sharon J. Durfy, Jason K. Barber, and Richard G. Ellenbogen


While a select population of pediatric patients with Chiari malformation type I (CM-I) remain asymptomatic, some patients present with tussive headaches, neurological deficits, progressive scoliosis, and other debilitating symptoms that necessitate surgical intervention. Surgery entails a variety of strategies to restore normal CSF flow, including increasing the posterior fossa volume via bone decompression only, or bone decompression with duraplasty, with or without obex exploration. The indications for duraplasty and obex exploration following bone decompression remain controversial. The objective of this study was to describe an institutional series of pediatric patients undergoing surgery for CM-I, performed by a single neurosurgeon. For patients presenting with a syrinx, the authors compared outcomes following bone-only decompression with duraplasty only and with duraplasty including obex exploration. Clinical outcomes evaluated included resolution of syrinx, scoliosis, presenting symptoms, and surgical complications.


A retrospective review was conducted of the medical records of 276 consecutive pediatric patients with CM-I operated on at a single institution between 2001 and 2015 by the senior author. Imaging findings of tonsillar descent, associated syrinx (syringomyelia or syringobulbia), basilar invagination, and clinical assessment of CM-I–attributable symptoms and scoliosis were recorded. In patients presenting with a syrinx, clinical outcomes, including syrinx resolution, symptom resolution, and impact on scoliosis progression, were compared for three surgical groups: bone-only/posterior fossa decompression (PFD), PFD with duraplasty (PFDwD), and PFD with duraplasty and obex exploration (PFDwDO).


PFD was performed in 25% of patients (69/276), PFDwD in 18% of patients (50/276), and PFDwDO in 57% of patients (157/276). The mean follow-up was 35 ± 35 months. Nearly half of the patients (132/276, 48%) had a syrinx. In patients presenting with a syrinx, PFDwDO was associated with a significantly higher likelihood of syrinx resolution relative to PFD only (HR 2.65, p = 0.028) and a significant difference in time to symptom resolution (HR 2.68, p = 0.033). Scoliosis outcomes did not differ among treatment groups (p = 0.275). Complications were not significantly higher when any duraplasty (PFDwD or PFDwDO) was performed following bone decompression (p > 0.99).


In this series of pediatric patients with CM-I, patients presenting with a syrinx who underwent expansile duraplasty with obex exploration had a significantly greater likelihood of syrinx and symptom resolution, without increased risk of CSF-related complications, compared to those who underwent bone-only decompression.