Tortuous course of the vertebral artery and anterior cervical decompression: A cadaveric and clinical case study

Lukasz J. Curylo, Harold C. Mason, Henry H. Bohlman, Jung U. Yoo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

121 Scopus citations


Study Design. Both the cadaveric and clinical examples of anomalous vertebral artery courses are described. The incidence of this anomaly in the general population and recognition, complications, and treatment options for these patients when undergoing anterior cervical decompression are discussed. Objectives. Cadaveric study: In this study vertebral artery's course through the cervical spine in the adult population was analyzed. The relation between an abnormal vertebral artery course and surgical landmarks are described. Clinical study: Complications and alternative treatment methods for decompression in patients with the anomaly are described. Summary of Background Data. The incidence of anomalous vertebral artery course is low, but failure to recognize a medially located vertebral artery may result in a life-threatening iatrogenic injury during decompression. Neither the relation between the vertebral arteries and the surgical landmarks nor the guidelines for decompression in the face of a tortuous vertebral artery have been well described. Methods. Transverse foramens of the cervical spine were measured in 222 cadaveric spines. The measurements were taken describing the relation between transverse foramens and other surgical landmarks. Three patients with anomalies were identified in clinical practice. The complications and treatment options are identified in these patients. Results. In the cadaveric specimens, a 2.7% incidence of tortuous vertebral artery course was identified. In these abnormal specimens, the transverse foramen was located an average of 0.14 mm medial to the joint of Luschka. In one patient, the abnormal course of the vertebral artery was recognized after laceration of the artery during a routine corpectomy. Anomalies in the other two patients were recognized before surgery, and the patients underwent modified anterior decompression by combining a discectomy at the anomalous level with a corpectomy at other levels. Vertebral artery ectasia is identifiable on axial magnetic resonance or computed tomographic images. Conclusions. Aberrant vertebral artery is rare. Preoperative recognition and appropriate modification of anterior decompression can yield excellent clinical results without risking significant complications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2860-2864
Number of pages5
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 15 2000


  • Anterior decompression
  • Cervical spondylosis
  • Complications
  • Vertebral artery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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