Patrick J. Grover, Lauren S. Harris, Dominic N. P. Thompson

May 2020, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 961 - 969 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-020-06313-x

First Online: 03 February 2020

Craniovertebral junction fixation in children less than 5 years


Whilst rigid fixation for craniovertebral instability is the gold standard, in very young, small children conventional management may have to be modified. We present a single-centre experience of craniocervical fixation in children under 5 years.


A retrospective review of cases that had undergone atlantoaxial (AA) or occipitocervical (OC) fixation aged under 5 years. Fusion was assessed using computerised tomography or flexion extension X-rays.


Twenty-six children (median age 2.3, range 0.8–4.9 years, 19 under the age of 3) underwent OC (n = 19) or AA (n = 7) fusion between 1999 and 2016. Pathology comprised 17 congenital, five trauma, two tumour and two post-infection cases. Twenty-one patients underwent sublaminar cable fixation with calvarial, autologous bone graft and halo-body orthosis immobilisation. An occipital plate and rods to sublaminar wire construct were used in four cases. A rigid instrumented fixation with occipital plate and C2 pedicle screws was utilised in one case. Follow-up was for a median of 2.8 years (range 0.03–16.3 years). Initial fusion rate was 91%, reaching 100% following two re-operations. Ninety-two per cent of patients were neurologically stable or improved following surgery. Twenty-one patients had a good overall outcome. Two patients had post-operative neurological deteriorations, and four died due to non-procedure related causes. Pin site morbidity secondary to halo use occurred in five cases.


High fusion rates with good outcomes are achievable using semi-rigid fixation in the under 5-year-olds. Full thickness, autologous calvarial bone graft secured with wire cables and halo external orthosis offers a safe and effective alternative technique when traditional screw instrumentation is not feasible.

Graphic abstract

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