Arnold-Chiari malformation. Review of 71 cases

J Neurosurg. 1983 Feb;58(2):183-7. doi: 10.3171/jns.1983.58.2.0183.


The natural history of symptomatic adult Type I Arnold-Chiari malformation (ACM) is variable, and the value of surgery in the management of this disease is difficult to assess. A series of 71 patients in whom a diagnosis of Type I ACM was confirmed at operation is presented, and the progress of the patients following posterior fossa decompression is analyzed. The length of history varied greatly. Pain was the commonest symptom (69% of patients); other symptoms included weakness (56%), numbness (52%), and unsteadiness (40%). The presenting physical signs consisted of a foramen magnum compression syndrome (22%), central cord syndrome (65%), or a cerebellar syndrome (11%). Myelography was performed in 69 patients, and was the most useful investigation. Only 23% of plain radiographs were abnormal. In addition to tonsillar descent, the operative findings included arachnoid adhesions (41%) and syringomyelia (32%). All patients underwent suboccipital craniectomy and C1-3 laminectomy. Respiratory depression was the most frequent postoperative complication (14%), and one patient died from sleep apnea. Early postoperative improvement of both symptoms (82%) and signs (70%) was followed by later relapse in 21% of patients, showing an initial benefit following surgery. None of the patients with a cerebellar syndrome deteriorated, whereas 56% of patients with evidence of foramen magnum compression and 66% of those with a central cord syndrome maintained their initial improvement. The authors conclude that posterior fossa decompression appears to benefit some patients, although a significant proportion might be expected to relapse within 2 to 3 years after operation, depending upon the presenting syndrome.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation / diagnosis
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation / surgery*
  • Cerebellum
  • Cranial Fossa, Posterior / surgery
  • Female
  • Foramen Magnum
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged