C-2 neurectomy during atlantoaxial instrumented fusion in the elderly: patient satisfaction and surgical outcome

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The originally described technique of atlantoaxial stabilization using C-1 lateral mass and C-2 pars screws includes a C-2 neurectomy to provide adequate hemostasis and visualization for screw placement, enable adequate joint decortication and arthrodesis, and prevent new-onset postoperative C-2 neuralgia. However, inclusion of a C-2 neurectomy for this procedure remains controversial, likely due in part to a lack of studies that have specifically addressed whether it affects patient outcome. The authors' objective was to assess the surgical and clinical impact of routine C-2 neurectomy performed with C1–2 segmental instrumented arthrodesis in a consecutive series of elderly patients with C1–2 instability.


Forty-four consecutive patients (mean age 71 years) underwent C1–2 instrumented fusion, including C-1 lateral mass screw insertion. Bilateral C-2 neurectomies were performed. Standardized clinical assessments were performed both pre- and postoperatively. Numbness or discomfort in a C-2 distribution was documented at follow-up. Fusion was assessed using the Lenke fusion grade.


Among all 44 patients, mean blood loss was 200 ml (range 100–350 ml) and mean operative time was 129 minutes (range 87–240 minutes). There were no intraoperative complications, and no patients reported new postoperative onset or worsening of C-2 neuralgia postoperatively. Outcomes for the 30 patients with a minimum 13-month follow-up (range 13–72 months) were assessed. At a mean follow-up of 36 months, Nurick grade and pain numeric rating scale scores improved from 3.7 to 1.0 (p < 0.001) and 9.4 to 0.6 (p < 0.001), respectively. The mean postoperative Neck Disability Index score was 7.3%. The fusion rate was 97%, and the patient satisfaction rate was 93%. All 24 patients with preoperative occipital neuralgia reported relief. Seventeen patients noticed C-2 distribution numbness only during examination in the clinic, and 2 patients reported C-2 numbness, but it did not affect their daily function.


In this series of C1–2 instrumented arthrodesis in elderly patients, excellent fusion rates were achieved, and patient satisfaction was not negatively affected by C-2 neurectomy. In the authors' experience, C-2 neurectomy enhanced surgical exposure of the C1–2 joint, thereby facilitating hemostasis, placement of instrumentation, and decortication of the joint space for arthrodesis. Importantly, with C-2 neurectomy in the present series, no cases of new onset postoperative C-2 neuralgia occurred, in contrast to a growing number of reports in the literature documenting new-onset C-2 neuralgia without C-2 neurectomy. On the contrary, 80% of patients in the present series had preoperative occipital neuralgia and in all of these patients this neuralgia was relieved following C1–2 instrumented arthrodesis with C-2 neurectomy.

Abbreviations used in this paper: EBL = estimated blood loss; NDI = Neck Disability Index.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Justin S. Smith, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Neurosurgery, University of Virginia, PO Box 800212, Charlottesville, Virginia 22908. email: jss7f@virginia.edu.

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online April 1, 2011; DOI: 10.3171/2011.1.SPINE10417.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



  • View in gallery

    Cauterization of the nerve/venous complex at the C1–2 joint. The black and white arrows point to the C-2 dorsal root ganglion and C-2 spinous process, respectively.



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