Background: The diagnosis and management of Chiari I malformations (CMI) remains controversial, particularly since it is often an incidental finding on cervical MR scans performed for neck pain and/or headaches. Recently, some surgeons "over-operated" on asymptomatic patients with Chiari I malformations, or even on those without the requisite radiographic diagnostic features for Chiari I malformations: unfortunately, only a subset were admonished for indiscriminate surgery. Nevertheless, when this hindbrain malformation is truly symptomatic, contributing to impaired cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) circulation, various valid surgical management strategies may be adopted.
Methods: This review focuses on the current literature regarding the clinical presentation, diagnosis, and surgical management of Chiari I malformation. Variations in the surgical technique are also presented and critiqued.
Results: The recommended treatment for Chiari I malformations I consists of decompressive suboccipital craniectomy and duroplasty when abnormal cine-flow MRI is observed preoperatively and blockage of CSF flow persists intraoperatively despite bony decompression.
Conclusions: Controversy continues regarding the optimal surgical technique to address Chiari malformations I. Proper diagnostic studies and patient selection are needed to optimize patient outcomes, while avoiding unnecessary surgical procedures.
Keywords: Chiari malformation I; decompression; duroplasty; operative controversy; suboccipital craniectomy; surgical indications.