Mehmet Zileli, Nevhis Akıntürk

February 2022, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 311 - 326 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-021-07037-2

First Online: 02 November 2021

Complications of occipitocervical fixation: retrospective review of 128 patients with 5-year mean follow-up


Occipitocervical fusion is necessary for many pathologies of the craniocervical junction. The anatomy of the region is unique, and fusion can cause significant morbidity. This retrospective review aims to investigate the complication rates and outcomes of occipitocervical fixation.

Material and methods

This is a retrospective review of 128 patients with occipitocervical fixation operated between 1994 and 2020. The average follow-up is 63 months.


The indications of occipitocervical fixation were basilar invagination (53 patients; 41.4%), trauma (25 patients; 19.5%), tumor (23 patients; 18%), instability due to rheumatoid arthritis (13 patients; 10.2%), cervical deformity (7 patients; 5.5%) and os odontoideum (7 patients; 5.5%). There were six early postoperative (1st month) deaths.

We observed complications in 67 patients (52%). Most common complication was implant-related (32%), followed by wound problems (23.4%), systemic and other complications (11.7%), neurologic complications (6.2%).

Implants are removed in 31 patients (24%) for different reasons: deep wound infection (7), local pain and restriction of head movements (21), respiratory distress and swallowing problems (2), screw fracture and local pain (1).


Occipitocervical fixation has quite large number of complications and significantly restricts head movements. With the advent of our biomechanical concepts, indications should be limited, and shorter cervical fixations should be preferred.

Level of evidence

Diagnostic: individual cross-sectional studies with consistently applied reference standard and blinding.

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