Spinal canal capacity in simulated displacements of the atlantoaxial segment: A SKELETAL STUDY

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Abstract

In normal, physiological circumstances there is ample room in the spinal canal to accommodate the spinal cord.Our study aimed to identify the degree of compromise of the spinal canal which could be anticipated in various atlantoaxial pathological states. We examined paired atlas and axis vertebrae using high-definition radiography and simultaneous photography in both normal and simulated pathological orientations in order to measure the resultant dimension of the spinal canal and its percentage occlusion.

At the extreme of physiological axial rotation (47 degrees) the spinal canal is reduced to 61% of its cross-sectional area in neutral rotation. The spinal cord is thus safe from compromise.

Atlantoaxial subluxation of up to 9 mm reduces the area of the spinal canal, in neutral rotation, to 60% with no cord compromise.Any rotation is, however, likely to cause cord compression.

The mechanism of fixation in atlantoaxial rotatory subluxation could be explained by bony interlocking of the facet joint, reproducible in dry bones.

J Bone Joint Surg [Br] 1998;80-B:1073-8.

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