Chiari I malformation with and without basilar invagination: a comparative study

Neurosurg Focus. 2015 Apr;38(4):E12. doi: 10.3171/2015.1.FOCUS14783.


Object: Chiari I malformation is the most common craniocervical malformation. Its combination with basilar invagination in a significant proportion of patients is well established. This study presents surgical results for patients with Chiari I malformation with and without additional basilar invagination.

Method: Three hundred twenty-three patients underwent 350 operations between 1985 and 2013 (mean age 43 ± 16 years, mean history of symptoms 64 ± 94 months). 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. The mean follow-up was 53 ± 58 months (the means are expressed ± SD).

Results: Patients with (n = 46) or without (n = 277) basilar invagination in addition to Chiari I malformation were identified. Patients with invagination were separated into groups: those with (n = 31) and without (n = 15) ventral compression by the odontoid in the foramen magnum. Of the 350 operations, 313 dealt with the craniospinal pathology, 28 surgeries were undertaken for degenerative diseases of the cervical spine, 3 were performed for hydrocephalus, and 6 syrinx catheters were removed for cord tethering. All craniospinal operations included a foramen magnum decompression with arachnoid dissection, opening of the fourth ventricle, and a duraplasty. In patients without invagination, craniospinal instability was detected in 4 individuals, who required additional craniospinal fusion. In patients with invagination but without ventral compression, no stabilization was added to the decompression. In all patients with ventral compression, craniospinal stabilization was performed with the foramen magnum decompression, except for 4 patients with mild ventral compression early in the series who underwent posterior decompression only. Among those with ventral compression, 9 patients with caudal cranial nerve dysfunctions underwent a combination of transoral decompression with posterior decompression and fusion. Within the 1st postoperative year, neurological scores improved for all symptoms in each patient group, with the most profound improvement for occipital pain. In the long term, late postoperative deteriorations were related to reobstruction of CSF flow in patients without invagination (18.3% in 10 years), whereas deteriorations in patients with invagination (24.9% in 10 years) were exclusively related either to instabilities becoming manifest after a foramen magnum decompression or to hardware failures. Results for ventral and posterior fusions for degenerative disc diseases in these patients indicated a trend for better long-term results with posterior operations.

Conclusions: The great majority of patients with Chiari I malformations with or without basilar invagination report postoperative improvements with this management algorithm. There were no significant differences in short-term or long-term outcomes between these groups. Chiari I malformations without invagination and those with invaginations but 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, reserving anterior decompressions for patients with profound, symptomatic brainstem compression.

Keywords: Chiari I malformation; Klippel-Feil syndrome; basilar invagination; craniospinal instability; syringomyelia.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation* / complications
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation* / pathology
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation* / surgery
  • Decompression, Surgical / methods*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Foramen Magnum / pathology
  • Foramen Magnum / surgery
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odontoid Process / pathology
  • Odontoid Process / surgery*
  • Platybasia / complications*
  • Platybasia / surgery*
  • Spinal Fusion / methods*
  • Time Factors
  • Tomography Scanners, X-Ray Computed