Treatment of basilar invagination

Eur Spine J. 2014 Aug;23(8):1656-65. doi: 10.1007/s00586-014-3423-7. Epub 2014 Jun 18.


Purpose: Basilar invagination is a rare craniocervical malformation which may lead to neurological deficits related to compression of brainstem and upper cervical cord as well as instability of the craniocervical junction. This study presents results of a treatment algorithm developed over a 20-year period focussing on anatomical findings, short-term and long-term outcomes.

Methods: 69 patients with basilar invagination (mean age 41 ± 18 years, history 64 ± 85 months) were encountered. The clinical courses were documented with a score system for individual neurological symptoms for short-term results after 3 and 12 months. Long-term outcomes were analyzed with Kaplan-Meier statistics.

Results: Patients with (n = 31) or without (n = 38) ventral compression were distinguished. 25 patients declined an operation, while 44 patients underwent 48 operations. Surgical management depended on the presence of ventral compression and segmentation anomalies between occiput and C3, signs of instability and presence of caudal cranial nerve dysfunctions. 16 patients without ventral compression underwent foramen magnum decompressions without fusion. 19 patients with ventral compression and abnormalities of segmentation or evidence of instability underwent a foramen magnum decompression with craniocervical (n = 18) or C1/2 (n = 1) stabilization. In nine patients with severe ventral compression and caudal cranial nerve deficits, a transoral resection of the odontoid was combined with a posterior decompression and fusion. Within the first postoperative year neurological scores improved for all symptoms in each patient group. In the long-term, postoperative deteriorations were related exclusively to instabilities either becoming manifest after a foramen magnum decompression in three or as a result of hardware failures in two patients.

Conclusions: The great majority of patients with basilar invagination report postoperative improvements with this management algorithm. Most patients without ventral compression can be managed by foramen magnum decompression alone. The majority of patients with ventral compression can be treated by posterior decompression, realignment and stabilization alone, reserving anterior decompressions for patients with profound, symptomatic brainstem compression.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Decompression, Surgical / methods*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Foramen Magnum / diagnostic imaging*
  • Foramen Magnum / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Platybasia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Platybasia / surgery*
  • Radiography
  • Spinal Fusion / methods
  • Young Adult