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Placement of C1 Pedicle Screws Using Minimal Exposure: Radiographic, Clinical, and Literature Validation

Richard P. Menger, MD, Christopher M. Storey, MD, PhD, Menarvia K.C. Nixon, MD, Justin Haydel, MD, Anil Nanda, MD, MPH, FACS, Anthony Sin MD

Department of Neurosurgery, Louisiana State University of Health Sciences, Shreveport LA



Traditional C1-2 fixation involves placement of C1 lateral mass screws. Evolving techniques have led to the placement of C1 pedicle screws to avoid exposure of the C1-C2 joint capsule. Our minimal dissection technique utilizes anatomical landmarks with isolated exposure of C2 and the inferior posterior arch of C1. We evaluate this procedure clinically and radiographically through a technical report.


Consecutive cases of cranial-vertebral junction surgery were reviewed for one fellowship trained spinal surgeon from 2008-2014. Information regarding sex, age, indication for surgery, private or public hospital, intra-operative complications, post-operative neurological deterioration, death, and failure of fusion was extracted. Measurement of pre-operative axial and sagittal CT scans were performed for C1 pedicle width and C1 posterior arch height respectively.


64 patients underwent posterior cranio-vertebral junction fixation surgery. 40 of these patients underwent occipital-cervical fusion procedures. 7/9 (77.8%) C1 instrumentation cases were from trauma with the remaining two (22.2%) from oncologic lesions. The average blood loss among isolated C1-C2 fixation was 160cc. 1/9 patients (11.1%) suffered pedicle breech requiring sub-laminar wiring at the C1 level.

On radiographic measurement, the average height of the C1 posterior arch was noted at 4.3mm (range 3.8mm to 5.7mm). The average width of the C1 pedicle measured at 5.3mm (range 2.8 to 8.7mm). The patient with C1 pedicle screw failure had a pedicle width of 2.78mm on pre-operative axial CT imaging.


Our study directly adds to the literature with level four evidence supporting a minimal dissection of C1 arch in the placement of C1 pedicle screws with both radiographic and clinical validation.

Clinical Relevance

Justification of this technique avoids C2 nerve root manipulation or sacrifice, reduces bleeding associated with the venous plexus, and leaves the third segment of the vertebral artery unexplored. Pre-operative review of imaging is critical in the placement of C1-C2 instrumentation.

C1-C2 instrumentation, lateral mass screw, Pedicle screw, pars interarticularis screw
Volume 9 Article 43