Fadi Taher, Kristaps Bokums, Alexander Aichmair, Alexander P. Hughes

May 2014, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 145 - 149 Case Report Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-013-2792-7

First Online: 25 April 2013


An exact understanding of patient vertebral artery anatomy is essential to safely place screws at the atlanto-axial level in posterior arthrodesis. We aim to report a case of erosion of the left vertebral artery into the C1–C2 facet complex with resultant rotatory and lateral listhesis presenting with severe occipital headache. This represents a novel etiology for this diagnosis and our report illustrates technical considerations when instrumenting the C1–C2 segment.


We report a case of severe occipital headache due to C1–C2 instability with resultant left C2 nerve compression in the setting of erosion of the vertebral artery into the C1–C2 facet complex.


A 68-year-old woman presented with a 12-month history of progressively debilitating headache and neck pain with atlanto-axial instability. Computed tomography (CT) angiography demonstrated erosion of the left vertebral artery into the left C1–C2 facet complex. In addition, the tortuous vertebral arteries had eroded into the C2 pedicles, eliminating the possibility for posterior pedicle screw placement. The patient underwent posterior arthrodesis of C1–C2 utilizing bilateral lateral mass fixation into C1 and bilateral trans-laminar fixation into C2 with resolution of all preoperative complaints.


This study constitutes the first report of a tortuous vertebral artery causing the partial destruction of a C1–C2 facet complex, as well as instability, with the clinical presentation of severe occipital headache. It hereby presents a novel etiology for both the development of C1–C2 segment instability as well as the development of occipital headache. Careful evaluation of such lesions utilizing CT angiography is important when formulating a surgical plan.

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