Fusion of the occiput to the upper cervical spine: A review of 37 cases

Paul C. McAfee, John R. Cassidy, Randy Davis, Richard B. North, Thomas B. Ducker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


This is the first report of a large series of patients undergoing preoperative traction to reduce spinomedullary compression from cranial settling. In all cases, an attempt was made to reduce the malalignment with Gardner-Wells or halo traction before posterior fusion. One patient required an anterior retropharyngeal decompression of the odontoid performed as a one-stage procedure at the time of the posterior operation, and two required subsequent anterior transoral-transpharyngeal resection of the odontoid. From 1974 to 1989, 37 patients underwent posterior occipital cervical arthrodesis. AU cases presented with neurologic deficit, and most had signs of brain stem compression, such as L’hermitte’s sign or Ondine’s curse. The most common cause of basilar impression was rheumatoid arthritis, neoplastic destruction, previously failed C1-C2 fusion, or Down’s syndrome. Mean postoperative follow-up was 2 years and 10 months; the patients with less than 2 years’ follow-up were followed until successful fusion. Eight of 9 patients with L’hermitte’s sign or Ondine’s curse and 10 of 12 patients with intractable occipital pain were relieved of their symptoms after reduction and triple-wire stabiliza- tion-fusion. Eighteen of 25 patients with long tract signs improved after surgery. Interestingly, 14 (93.3%) of 15 patients with myelopathy improved when successful pre- operative reduction of their deformity occurred, whereas only 4 (40%) of 10 patients with fixed basilar impression improved (X2 = 8.57, P =.014). Symptoms such as Ondine’s curse, L’hermitte’s sign, intractable occipital head-ache, and myelopathy are usually relieved by skeletal traction and posterior fusion without need of an additional transmucosal anterior procedure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S490-S494
StatePublished - Oct 1991


  • Cervical myelopathy
  • Cranial setting
  • Occipitocervical fusion
  • Spinomedullary compression
  • Traction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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