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Soft Tissue Dissection in the Transcondylar Approach: A Modified Layered Technique to Maximize Lateral Access
Objective While the transcondylar approach is technically challenging, it provides generous ventral and caudal exposure to the craniovertebral junction. This approach requires navigation around multiple eloquent neurovascular structures including the lower cranial nerves, vertebral artery and its branches, and the brainstem. Superficial exposure, including incision location and muscle dissection, can dramatically affect the surgical angle and maneuverability at depth.
Methods We demonstrate the transcondylar approach in a step-by-step fashion in a formalin-embalmed, latex-injected cadaver head. Dissection within each layer of the suboccipital muscles was performed. A small cohort with an illustrative case is also included herein.
Results The sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle was retracted anteriorly; the splenium capitis, semispinalis capitis, and longissimus capitis muscles were disconnected from the superior nuchal line and reflected inferomedially. The suboccipital muscle group was fully exposed. The superior and inferior oblique muscles were disconnected from the transverse process of C1. The superior oblique and the rectus capitis posterior major muscles were then dissected off the inferior nuchal line, and the suboccipital muscle group was retracted inferomedially en bloc. The greater auricular nerve was retracted laterally with the SCM, and the greater occipital nerve was retracted inferomedially with the suboccipital muscle group.
Conclusions This technique avoids the obstructive muscle bulk that results from a myocutaneous approach while maximizing deep exposure. Understanding the detailed muscular anatomical relationship with the insertion location and suboccipital nerves is key to complete and safe extracranial dissection. Diligent dissection helps minimize postoperative pain and muscle spasm while optimizing the closure technique.
Keywordstranscondylar - skull base - closure technique - craniovertebral - vertebral artery - cranial nerve - sternocleidomastoid - foramen magnum
Received: 18 December 2022
Accepted: 24 April 2023
Article published online:
19 May 2023
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