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Pediatr Neurosurg. 2019;54(2):75-84. doi: 10.1159/000496832. Epub 2019 Mar 7.

Traumatic Occipitocervical Distraction Injuries in Children: A Systematic Review.

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Medical Scientist Training Program, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee, USA,
Department of Neurosurgery, New Jersey Medical School and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Rutgers University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.
Department of Neurosurgery, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.
Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery, The Spine Hospital, Columbia University Medical Center, The Neurological Institute of New York, New York City, New York, USA.



Occipitocervical distraction injuries (OCDI) in children occur on a wide spectrum of severity, and decisions about treatment suffer from a lack of rigorous guidelines and significant inter-institutional variability. While clear cases of frank atlanto-occipital dislocation (AOD) are treated with surgical stabilization, the approach for less severe cases of OCDI is not standardized. These patients require a careful assessment of both radiographic and clinical criteria, as part of a complex risk-benefit analysis, to establish whether occipitocervical fusion (OCF) is indicated. Here, we performed a systematic review of the literature that describes traumatic OCDI in children < 18 years of age.


We performed a systematic review, according to PRISMA guidelines, of children < 18 years of age presenting with traumatic etiologies of OCDI. We searched PubMed to identify papers congruent with these criteria. Exclusion criteria included (1) reports on atraumatic causes of OCDI and (2) studies with insufficient clinical and radiographic details on individual patients. We identified 16 reports describing a total of 144 patients treated for pediatric traumatic OCDI. Based on the synthesis of these findings and the collective experience of the authors, we present the demographic, clinical, and radiographic factors that underlie OC instability, which we hope will serve as components of a grading system in the future. We considered various clinical and radiographic findings including: (1) the mechanism of injury, (2) the patient's age, (3) CT/CT angiography of head and neck findings and parameters, (4) MRI findings, and (5) neurological exam, for the purpose of determining the severity of the OCDI and offering treatment guidelines based on the summative risk of underlying OC instability. Key Messages: OCDI is a potentially devastating injury, especially in children. Although missing the diagnosis can have potentially catastrophic consequences, reverting to surgical fixation in less severe cases can subject children to unnecessary operative risk and permanently reduce their range of motion. After reviewing all the available reports of pediatric traumatic OCDI in the neurosurgical literature, we propose an outline of clinical and radiographic factors influencing underlying OC instability that could be incorporated into a grading scale to guide treatment. We hope this study stimulates discussion on the standardization of treatment for pediatric OCDI.


Cervical instability; Occipitocervical distraction injury; Pediatric spine; Trauma

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