Congenital atlantoaxial dislocation: a dynamic process and role of facets in irreducibility

Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, Volume 0, Issue 0, Page 1-8, Ahead of Print.

Pravin Salunke, M.Ch., Manish Sharma, M.Ch., Harsimrat Bir Singh Sodhi, M.S., Kanchan K. Mukherjee, M.Ch., and Niranjan K. Khandelwal, M.D.


Patient age at presentation with congenital atlantoaxial dislocation (CAAD) is variable. In addition, the factors determining irreducibility or reducibility in these patients remain unclear. The facets appear to contribute to the stability of the joint, albeit to an unknown extent. The objective of this paper was to study the characteristics of C1–2 facets in these patients and their bearing on the clinicoradiological presentation and management.


Twenty-four patients with CAAD were studied. Fifteen patients had irreducible CAAD (IrAAD); 3 of these patients experienced incomplete reduction after traction, and 9 had reducible CAAD (RAAD). The images (CT scans of the craniovertebral junction in a neutral position) obtained in the parasagittal, axial, and coronal planes were studied with respect to the C1–2 facets and were compared with 32 control scans. The inferior sagittal and coronal C-1 facet angles were measured. The lordosis of the cervical spine (cervical spine angle calculated on radiographs of the cervical spine, neutral view) in these patients was compared with normal. The management of these patients is described.


The inferior sagittal C-1 facet angle and at least one coronal angle in patients with IrAAD were significantly acute compared with those in patients with RAAD and the control population. A significant correlation was found between age and the acuteness of the inferior sagittal C-1 facet angle (that is, the more acute the angle, the earlier the presentation). The lordosis of the cervical spine was exaggerated in patients with IrAAD. Three patients with IrAAD who had smaller acute angles experienced a partial reduction after traction and a complete reduction after intraoperative distraction of the facets, thereby avoiding a transoral procedure. An inferior sagittal C-1 facet angle of more than 150° in the sagittal plane predicted reducibility. Drilling a wedge off the facet in the sagittal plane to make the inferior sagittal C-1 facet angle 150° can reduce the C1–2 joint intraoperatively by posterior approach alone.


The acuteness of the inferior C-1 sagittal facet angles possibly determines the age at presentation and reducibility. The coronal angles determine the telescoping of C-2 within C-1. Patients with IrAAD can be treated using a posterior approach alone with the exception of those with extremely acute angles or a retroflexed dens. The exaggerated lordosis of the cervical spine in these patients is a compensatory phenomenon.


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