Background: Chiari malformation, functional cranial settling and subtle forms of basilar invagination result in biomechanical neuraxial stress, manifested by bulbar symptoms, myelopathy and headache or neck pain. Finite element analysis is a means of predicting stress due to load, deformity and strain. The authors postulate linkage between finite element analysis (FEA)-predicted biomechanical neuraxial stress and metrics of neurological function.
Methods: A prospective, Internal Review Board (IRB)-approved study examined a cohort of 5 children with Chiari I malformation or basilar invagination. Standardized outcome metrics were used. Patients underwent suboccipital decompression where indicated, open reduction of the abnormal clivo-axial angle or basilar invagination to correct ventral brainstem deformity, and stabilization/ fusion. FEA predictions of neuraxial preoperative and postoperative stress were correlated with clinical metrics.
Results: Mean follow-up was 32 months (range, 7-64). There were no operative complications. Paired t tests/ Wilcoxon signed-rank tests comparing preoperative and postoperative status were statistically significant for pain, bulbar symptoms, quality of life, function but not sensorimotor status. Clinical improvement paralleled reduction in predicted biomechanical neuraxial stress within the corticospinal tract, dorsal columns and nucleus solitarius.
Conclusion: The results are concurrent with others, that normalization of the clivo-axial angle, fusion-stabilization is associated with clinical improvement. FEA computations are consistent with the notion that reduction of deformative stress results in clinical improvement. This pilot study supports further investigation in the relationship between biomechanical stress and central nervous system (CNS) function.
Keywords: Chiari malformation; clivo-axial angle; craniocervical junction; deformative stress; finite element analysis; stretch myelopathy.