Object: The use of C-1 lateral mass screws provides an alternative to C1-2 transarticular screws in the pediatric population. However, the confined space of the local anatomy and unfamiliarity with the technique may make the placement of a C-1 lateral mass screw more challenging, especially in the juvenile or growing spine.
Methods: A CT morphometric analysis was performed in 76 pediatric atlases imaged at Texas Children's Hospital from October 1, 2007 until April 30, 2008. Critical measurements were determined for potential screw entry points, trajectories, and lengths, with the goal of replicating the operative technique described by Harms and Melcher for adult patients.
Results: The mean height and width for screw entry on the posterior surface of the lateral mass were 2.6 and 8.5 mm, respectively. The mean medially angled screw trajectory from an idealized entry point on the lateral mass was 16 degrees (range 4 to 27 degrees ). The mean maximal screw depth from this same ideal entry point was 20.3 mm. The overhang of the posterior arch averaged 6.3 mm (range 2.1-12.4 mm). The measurement between the left- and right-side lateral masses was significantly different for the maximum medially angled screw trajectory (p = 0.003) and the maximum inferiorly directed angle (p = 0.045). Those measurements in children < 8 years of age were statistically significant for the entry point height (p = 0.038) and maximum laterally angled screw trajectory (p = 0.025) compared with older children. The differences between boys and girls were statistically significant for the minimum screw length (p = 0.04) and the anterior lateral mass height (p < 0.001).
Conclusions: A significant variation in the morphological features of C-1 exists, especially between the left and right sides and in younger children. The differences between boys and girls are clinically insignificant. The critical measurement of whether the C-1 lateral mass in a child could accommodate a 3.5-mm-diameter screw is the width of the lateral mass and its proximity to the vertebral artery. Only 1 of 152 lateral masses studied would not have been able to accommodate a lateral mass screw. This study reemphasizes the importance of a preoperative CT scan of the upper cervical spine to assure safe and effective placement of the instrumentation at this level.