BackgroundThree-dimensional reduction plays a vital role in surgical reduction of irreversible atlantoaxial dislocation (IAAD). However, the most commonly used combination of C1 pedicle screw (PS) or lateral mass screw (LMS) and C2 PS or isthmus screw often fails to achieve satisfactory reduction at one time. The difficulty is usually caused by short anteroposterior and vertical distance between heads of C1 and C2 screws, which lack enough space for reduction operation. The objective of this study is to describe a three-dimensional reduction method with a modified C2 isthmus screw and to illustrate its advantage and effectiveness for IAAD.MethodsTwelve patients with IAAD underwent reduction and fixation with modified C2 isthmus screw combined with C1 PS or LMS, fusion with autologous bone graft. The insertion point was lateral to the intersection of caudal edge of C2 lamina and lateral mass, with a trajectory towards C2 isthmus, via lateral mass. The three-dimensional reduction was achieved through pulling and distracting. Radiographic evaluation included anteroposterior and direct distance between different insertion points, the occipitoaxial angle (O-C2A), clivus-canal angle (CCA) and cervicomedullary angle (CMA). Clinical outcomes evaluation included the Japanese Orthopaedic Association (JOA) score, Visual analog scale (VAS) and Neck Disability Index (NDI).ResultsAll the patients maintained effective reduction during the follow-up. The anteroposterior and direct distance was significantly higher in modified C2 isthmus screw than C2 PS whether combined with C1 PS or LMS (P < 0.05). The degree of O-C2A, CCA and CMA, JOA score, NDI, and VAS were significantly improved after the surgery (P < 0.05).ConclusionsThree-dimensional reduction method with a modified C2 isthmus screw is effective and safe in managing IAAD. It can increase the anteroposterior and vertical distance between the heads of C1 and C2 screws, which is benefit for the three-dimensional reduction operation of IAAD.