A systematic review of occipital cervical fusion: techniques and outcomes

A review

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  • 1 Departments of Orthopaedic Spine Surgery and
  • 2 Neurological Surgery, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and
  • 3 Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitative Medicine, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
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Object

Numerous techniques have been historically used for occipitocervical fusion with varied results. The purpose of this study was to examine outcomes of various surgical techniques used in patients with various disease states to elucidate the most efficacious method of stabilization of the occipitocervical junction.

Methods

A literature search of peer-reviewed articles was performed using PubMed and CINAHL/Ovid. The key words “occipitocervical fusion,” “occipitocervical fixation,” “cervical instrumentation,” and “occipitocervical instrumentation” were used to search for relevant articles. Thirty-four studies were identified that met the search criteria. Within these studies, 799 adult patients who underwent posterior occipitocervical fusion were analyzed for radiographic and clinical outcomes including fusion rate, time to fusion, neurological outcomes, and the rate of adverse events.

Results

No articles stronger than Class IV were identified in the literature. Among the patients identified within the cited articles, the use of posterior screw/rod instrumentation constructs were associated with a lower rate of postoperative adverse events (33.33%) (p < 0.0001), lower rates of instrumentation failure (7.89%) (p < 0.0001), and improved neurological outcomes (81.58%) (p < 0.0001) when compared with posterior wiring/rod, screw/plate, and onlay in situ bone grafting techniques. The surgical technique associated with the highest fusion rate was posterior wiring and rods (95.9%) (p = 0.0484), which also demonstrated the shortest fusion time (p < 0.0064). Screw/rod techniques also had a high fusion rate, fusing in 93.02% of cases.

When comparing outcomes of surgical techniques depending on the disease status, inflammatory diseases had the lowest rate of instrumentation failure (0%) and the highest rate of neurological improvement (90.91%) following the use of screw/rod techniques. Occipitocervical fusion performed for the treatment of tumors by using screw/rod techniques had the lowest fusion rate (57.14%) (p = 0.0089). Traumatic causes of occipitocervical instability had the highest percentage of pain improvement with the use of screw/plates (100% improvement) (p < 0.0001).

Conclusions

Based on the existing literature, techniques that use screw/rod constructs in occipitocervical fusion are associated with very favorable outcomes in all categories assessed for all disease processes. For patients requiring occipitocervical arthrodesis for the treatment of inflammatory diseases, screw/rod constructs are associated with the most favorable outcomes, while posterior wiring and onlay in situ bone grafting is associated with the least favorable outcomes. Occipitocervical arthrodesis performed for the diagnosis of tumor is associated with the lowest rate of successful arthrodesis using screw/rod techniques, while posterior wiring and rods have the highest rate of arthrodesis. The nonspecified disease group had the lowest rate of surgical adverse events and the highest rate of neurological improvement.

Abbreviation used in this paper: ADL = activities of daily living.

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Contributor Notes

Address correspondence to: Corbett D. Winegar, M.D., Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Wayne State University, Taylor, Michigan 48180. email: corywinegar@gmail.com.
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