Biomechanical comparison of occipitoatlantal screw fixation techniques: Laboratory investigation

Nicholas C. Bambakidis, Iman Feiz-Erfan, Eric M. Horn, L. Fernando Gonzalez, Seungwon Baek, K. Zafer Yüksel, Anna G.U. Brantley, Volker K.H. Sonntag, Neil R. Crawford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

26 Scopus citations


Object. The stability provided by 3 occipitoatlantal fixation techniques (occiput [Oc]-C1 transarticular screws, occipital keel screws rigidly interconnected with C-1 lateral mass screws, and suboccipital/sublaminar wired contoured rod) were compared. Methods. Seven human cadaveric specimens received transarticular screws and 7 received occipital keel-C1 lateral mass screws. All specimens later underwent contoured rod fixation. All conditions were studied with and without placement of a structural graft wired between the skull base and C-1 lamina. Specimens were loaded quasistatically using pure moments to induce flexion, extension, lateral bending, and axial rotation while recording segmental motion optoelectronically. Flexibility was measured immediately postoperatively and after 10,000 cycles of fatigue. Results. Application of Oc-C1 transarticular screws, with a wired graft, reduced the mean range of motion (ROM) to 3% of normal. Occipital keel-C1 lateral mass screws (also with graft) offered less stability than transarticular screws during extension and lateral bending (p < 0.02), reducing ROM to 17% of normal. The wired contoured rod reduced motion to 31% of normal, providing significantly less stability than either screw fixation technique. Fatigue increased motion in constructs fitted with transarticular screws, keel screws/lateral mass screw constructs, and contoured wired rods, by means of 19, 5, and 26%, respectively. In all constructs, adding a structural graft significantly improved stability, but the extent depended on the loading direction. Conclusions. Assuming the presence of mild C1-2 instability, Oc-C1 transarticular screws and occipital keel-C1 lateral mass screws are approximately equivalent in performance for occipitoatlantal stabilization in promoting fusion. A posteriorly wired contoured rod is less likely to provide a good fusion environment because of less stabilizing potential and a greater likelihood of loosening with fatigue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-152
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neurosurgery: Spine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2008


  • Atlas
  • Axis
  • Biomechanics
  • Cable/graft fixation
  • Occiput
  • Screw/rod fixation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology

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    Bambakidis, N. C., Feiz-Erfan, I., Horn, E. M., Gonzalez, L. F., Baek, S., Yüksel, K. Z., Brantley, A. G. U., Sonntag, V. K. H., & Crawford, N. R. (2008). Biomechanical comparison of occipitoatlantal screw fixation techniques: Laboratory investigation. Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, 8(2), 143-152.