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The optimal transarticular c1-2 screw length and the location of the hypoglossal nerve.

BACKGROUND: Injury to the hypoglossal nerve is a complication associated with transarticular C1-2 screw placement. This complication can be caused by a misdirected or too long screw. Little is known about the optimal screw length and its relationship to the hypoglossal nerve.

METHODS: Twenty cervical spine specimens were used to study the optimal length of the transarticular C1-2 screw. Using the Magerl technique, a 3.0 mm drill bit was inserted into the C2 lateral mass, passing through the C1-2 facet joint and penetrating the upper portion of the ventral cortex of the lateral mass of the atlas. After drilling, the hole length was measured between the dorsal cortex of the C2 inferior articular process and the ventral cortex of the C1 lateral mass. In addition, six sagittal-sectioned cadavers were carefully dissected to observe the location of the hypoglossal nerve in the anterior aspect of the atlantoaxial region.

RESULTS: The results of the measurements showed that the mean optimal screw path length for all specimens was 38.1 +/- 2.2 mm with a range of 34-43 mm. There was no significant difference between sexes in the screw path length (p 0.05). The hypoglossal nerve lies vertically in front of the lateral portion of the C1 lateral mass and the C1-2 facet joint. The area where the hypoglossal nerve lies is approximately 2-3 mm lateral to the middle of the anterior aspect of the C1 lateral mass.

CONCLUSIONS: This study suggests that the mean optimal transarticular C1-2 screw length may be 38 mm; however, the determination of the accurate optimal C1-2 screw length should be made on an individual basis. Risk to the hypoglossal nerve can be eliminated if Magerl's technique is performed exactly.

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