Chiari malformation is a condition involving the posterior portions of the brain, brainstem, and the skull. Patients with a Chiari malformation have brain tissue that extends into the spinal canal, which can obstruct cerebral spinal fluid and can cause damage to the brain or spinal cord. Chiari malformations can be associated with other neurological conditions or appear on their own. For most patients, it is present at birth but is discovered in childhood or adulthood.

Sometimes a mild Chiari malformation is diagnosed on MRI imaging, however, it is typically an incidental finding that does cause symptoms or need treatment. In more significant Chiari malformations, some children do not have any symptoms while other children experience headaches, dizziness, numbness, trouble swallowing, and other symptoms. If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms on a regular basis, it is important to consult with your child’s pediatrician.

Additional medical complications that can be associated with a Chiari malformation include pediatric hydrocephalus, spina bifida, syringomyelia, and tethered spinal cord.

Finding a Chiari malformation on MRI is very common, and not all patients require surgery. UNC pediatric neurosurgery works closely with pediatricians and specialists to diagnose Chiari malformations and then develop a treatment plan which bests treats each individual child. Our surgeons uniquely work to reduce synthetic implants and perform minimally invasive procedures in order to reduce complications and need for future surgery.

Chiari Malformation Treatment

For children with severe symptoms or advanced findings on MRI, surgical treatment can provide relief and stop further damage to the brain or spine.

Chiari decompression/posterior fossa decompression surgery is performed by our fellowship trained pediatric neurosurgeons to help relive pressure on the brain and spinal cord caused by the Chiari malformation. Many pediatric patients who undergo surgery for a Chiari malformation find significant relief from their symptoms. Talk with your pediatric neurosurgeon to find out if surgery is the right treatment option for your child.


We offer weekly pediatric neurosurgery clinics in Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Pinehurst, and Wilmington. Visit our pediatric neurosurgery clinic locations page for the clinic or hospital nearest you or call 919-445-2410 to schedule an appointment.