gms | German Medical Science

ESBS 2005: Skull Base Surgery: An Interdisciplinary Challenge
7. Kongress der Europäischen Schädelbasisgesellschaft & 13. Jahrestagung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Schädelbasischirurgie

18. - 21.05.2005, Fulda

A severe skull base penetrating injury caused by a screwdriver. Review of literature

Meeting Contribution

  • Antonio de Tommasi - Dept. of Neurosurgery, University of Bari, Bari, Italy
  • Pasquale Cascardi
  • Claudio de Tommasi
  • Giuseppe Occhiogrosso
  • Giacomo Vailati

ESBS 2005: Skull Base Surgery: An Interdisciplinary Challenge. 7th Congress of the European Skull Base Society held in association with the 13th Congress of the German Society of Skull Base Surgery. Fulda, 18.-21.05.2005. Düsseldorf: German Medical Science GMS Publishing House; 2009. Doc05esbs23

doi: 10.3205/05esbs23, urn:nbn:de:0183-05esbs234

Veröffentlicht: 27. Januar 2009

© 2009 de Tommasi et al.
Dieser Artikel ist ein Open Access-Artikel und steht unter den Creative Commons Lizenzbedingungen ( Er darf vervielfältigt, verbreitet und öffentlich zugänglich gemacht werden, vorausgesetzt dass Autor und Quelle genannt werden.


This paper reports the case of a patient operated on following a skull base penetrating injury caused by a screwdriver. To date, among the 11 described cases of severe brain injuries caused by a screwdriver, this is the only patient which is alive without any neurological deficits after surgery.

The patient was admitted with a screwdriver penetrating into the right maxillary sinus and through to the skull base for a depth of more than 10 centimetres. CT scans revealed an oblique trajectory of the tool that crossed the midline from the right zygomatic region up to the left sphenoid wing and penetrated into the frontal lobe. The screwdriver seemed to stop next to the temporal lobe compressing the left optic nerve and the middle cerebral artery. The patient was awake and suffered a CSF leak, diplopia and sudden scotoma in the left eye.

A craniotomy was performed in order to follow the trajectory of the screwdriver tip and obtain a secure exposure of the neurovascular structures. No local or general complications were observed and, six weeks after surgery, the patient’s visual acuity recovered. To date, the patient is alive and neurologically intact.

The severity of the described brain injury has provided some interesting suggestions for the correct management of these complex skull base injuries.



To date, very few cases of penetrating head injuries by means of pointed objects, accounting for 0.4% of all head injuries, have been reported. Different tools have been described in causing the penetrating head injuries but, in only 10 cases was the tool reported to have been a screwdriver [1], [2], [4], [5], [7]. Only five patients in total survived injury, but literature documents that four of these patients were left with permanent anatomical or functional deficits.

This paper reports the case of a patient who, despite the severity of the skull base penetrating injury, not only survived surgery, but is still alive and found to be neurologically intact at the last follow-up after two years.

Case Report

A 20-year-old male patient suffered an accidental skull base penetrating injury by means of a cross-tipped screwdriver (Figure 1 a [Fig. 1]). The tool penetrated into the right maxillary bone and through the skull base for more than ten centimetres. The handle of the screwdriver had impeded the tool from running any deeper and it could be observed exiting from the right maxillary region .

On admission, the patient was in GCS 13: a CSF leak, diplopia, and a positive scotoma in the left eye were demonstrated.

An emergency CT and three-D CT scans revealed an oblique trajectory of the screwdriver through the right maxilla and the ethmoidal bone to the left sphenoid wing, penetrating into the brain (Figure 1 b–c [Fig. 1]). A frontal lobe laceration was present without severe intra-cerebral bleeding. The severe CSF leak and the close position of the tool to the left optic nerve, associated with a rapidly progressive visual loss, prompted immediate surgery.

A left supra-orbital craniotomy was performed obtaining secure exposure of the neurovascular basal structures. The screwdriver had passed over the left optic nerve and the carotid siphon stopping next to the left middle cerebral artery. Studying the screwdriver’s trajectory, it was deemed opportune to drill the skull base entry hole to raise the tip of the tool, thereby decompressing the arteries and the optic nerve. This procedure facilitated the gentle extraction of the screwdriver by its handle, without causing any complications. After this procedure, a dural laceration was detected and repaired and a piece of temporal muscle and fibrin glue were used to close the skull base fracture.

A lumbar drainage was positioned for nearly two days and continuous antibiotic therapy was administered.

After surgery, an initial recovery of the left visual acuity was observed without any local or general infections or complications. Six weeks following the injury, the patient completely recovered without any neurological deficits (Figure 1 d [Fig. 1]).


In the history of penetrating head injuries by means of sharp objects, the most famous patient was Henry II of France: the King was struck by the broken shaft of a lance in a joust with Gabriel de Lorges. He died on the 11th day post-injury. Smrkolj [4] reported two cases in which the screwdriver had remained lodged in the skull: both patients died in spite of surgical treatment [4]. Evans and Richmond [2] described the case of a patient falling down the ladder while holding a screwdriver between his teeth. Upon hitting the pavement, the shaft of the screwdriver was driven through the hard palate into the brain [2]. Anderson et al. presented a case of a self-inflicted right eye screwdriver injury, treated conservately; the patient had no residual effects 3 years later [1]. Li T et al. [3] published a report of a 19-year old boy with a left temporal region screwdriver injury who presented, 4 weeks later, with an MRI evidence of basilar-cavernous fistula and saccular aneurysm of the basilar artery. The patient was successfully treated with endovascular embolization [3]. Tutton et al. [5] analyzed four homicide attempt cases with a screwdriver. Two patients, with brain stem lesions, died, while two others, with intracranial haematomas, improved [5].

Wong et al. [7] described an unusual left temporal fossa injury by a screwdriver. The screwdriver had penetrated into the temporal squama, pointing anteriorly and entering the orbital apex, the ethmoid sinus and contralateral orbital apex, induced a total loss of vision and reduced ocular motility of the left eye. The patient was treated with antibiotics with impairment of ocular motility [7].

In literature, the neurological status of these patients at the admission at hospital represents the most significant indicator, particularly in terms of survival [6].

In the reported case, given the length of the screwdriver shaft, the oblique trajectory through the skull base avoided a lethal brain tissue damage or vascular lesions.

On the basis of the CT findings, together with consideration of the good clinical status of the patient at admission, as well as the rapid progression of the visual loss, helped us to decide for the immediate removal of the screwdriver by means of an aggressive surgical approach. The simple extraction of the screwdriver shaft by the handle was not considered in order to avoid any iatrogenic lesions to the left optical nerve and artery which had already been injured by the primary insult.

The postoperative course was complication-free; in particular, neither signs of infections nor new neurological deficits were detected. In order to avoid infections it was essential to repair the dural lacerations and the bone fractures, after the removal of the devitalized brain tissue.

Among 11 described cases of patients with severe skull base penetrating injuries caused by screwdriver, the reported patient represents the only survived patient without residual neurological deficits after surgery. Certainly, some important variables conditioned this clinical result and played a determinant role in the positive outcome of this patient: that is the early and intensive medical management, the emergency surgery, the selected surgery procedure and the early prevention of the local infections and general complications.


Anderson SA, Story PG. Case study of an orbital screwdriver injury. J Ophthalmic Nurs Technol. 1996;15:103-4.
Evans RJ, Richmond JM. An unusual death due to screwdriver impalement: A case report. Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 1996;17:70-2.
Li T, Huang Q, Duan C, Su Z, Zhao G, Han Z. Traumatic basilar-cavernous fistula associated with aneurysm of basilar artery. Chin J Traumatol. 2000;3:253-6.
Smrkolj V, Balazic J, Princic J. Intracranial injuries by a screwdriver. Forensic Sci Int. 1995;76:211-6.
Tutton MG, Chitnavis B, Stell IM. Screwdriver assaults and intracranial injuries. J Accid Emerg Med. 2000;17:225-6.
Ward JD, Chisholm AH, Prince VT, Gilman CB, Hawkins AM. Penetrating head injury. Crit Care Nurs Q. 1994;17:79-89.
Wong SC, Duke T, Evans PA, Sandford-Smith JH. Penetrating injury of the temporal fossa with a screwdriver with associated traumatic optic neuropathy. J Trauma. 2002;52:1189-91.