European Spine Journal

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 327–334 | Cite as

Complications of transpedicular screw fixation in the cervical spine

  • E. KastEmail author
  • K. Mohr
  • H.-P. Richter
  • W. Börm
Original Article


Today, posterior stabilization of the cervical spine is most frequently performed by lateral mass screws or spinous process wiring. These techniques do not always provide sufficient stability, and anterior fusion procedures are added secondarily. Recently, transpedicular screw fixation of the cervical spine has been introduced to provide a one-stage stable posterior fixation. The aim of the present prospective study is to examine if cervical pedicle screw fixation can be done by low risk and to identify potential risk factors associated with this technique. All patients stabilized by cervical transpedicular screw fixation between 1999 and 2002 were included. Cervical disorders included multisegmental degenerative instability with cervical myelopathy in 16 patients, segmental instability caused by rheumatoid arthritis in three, trauma in five and instability caused by infection in two patients. In most cases additional decompression of the spinal cord and bone graft placement were performed. Pre-operative and post-operative CT-scans (2-mm cuts) and plain X-rays served to determine changes in alignment and the position of the screws. Clinical outcome was assessed in all cases. Ninety-four cervical pedicle screws were implanted in 26 patients, most frequently at the C3 (26 screws) and C4 levels (19 screws). Radiologically 66 screws (70%) were placed correctly (maximal breach 1 mm) whereas 20 screws (21%) were misplaced with reduction of mechanical strength, slight narrowing of the vertebral artery canal (<25%) or the lateral recess without compression of neural structures. However, these misplacements were asymptomatic in all cases. Another eight screws (9%) had a critical breach. Four of them showed a narrowing of the vertebral artery canal of more then 25%, in all cases without vascular problems. Three screws passed through the intervertebral foramen, causing temporary paresis in one case and a new sensory loss in another. In the latter patient revision surgery was performed. The screw was loosened and had to be corrected. The only statistically significant risk factor was the level of surgery: all critical breaches were seen from C3 to C5. Percutaneous application of the screws reduced the risk for misplacement, although this finding was not statistically significant. There was also a remarkable learning curve. Instrumentation with cervical transpedicular screws results in very stable fixation. However, with the use of new techniques like percutaneous screw application or computerized image guidance there remains a risk for damaging nerve roots or the vertebral artery. This technique should be reserved for highly selected patients with clear indications and to highly experienced spine surgeons.


Cervical spine Pedicle screw fixation Complication Posterior fusion 



The studies comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed inclusive of ethics approval.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Neurosurgical DepartmentKantonsspital WinterthurWinterthurSwitzerland
  2. 2.Neurosurgical DepartmentUniversity of Ulm/GünzburgGermany

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