Atlantoaxial rotary subluxation in children

Pediatr Emerg Care. 1999 Feb;15(1):25-9. doi: 10.1097/00006565-199902000-00008.


Traumatic torticollis is an uncommon complaint in the emergency department (ED). One important cause in children is atlantoaxial rotary subluxation. Most children present with pain, torticollis ("cock-robin" position), and diminished range of motion. The onset is spontaneous and usually occurs following minor trauma. A thorough history and physical examination will eliminate the various causes of torticollis. Radiographic evaluation will demonstrate persistent asymmetry of the odontoid in its relationship to the atlas. Computed tomography, especially a dynamic study, may be needed to verify the subluxation. Treatment varies with severity and duration of the abnormality. For minor and acute cases, a soft cervical collar, rest, and analgesics may be sufficient. For more severe cases, the child may be placed on head halter traction, and for long-standing cases, halo traction or even surgical interventions may be indicated. We describe two patients with atlantoaxial rotary subluxation, who presented with torticollis, to illustrate recognition and management in the ED.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Atlanto-Axial Joint / diagnostic imaging
  • Atlanto-Axial Joint / injuries*
  • Atlanto-Axial Joint / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Joint Dislocations* / complications
  • Joint Dislocations* / diagnosis
  • Joint Dislocations* / physiopathology
  • Joint Dislocations* / therapy
  • Male
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Torsion Abnormality
  • Torticollis / diagnosis
  • Torticollis / etiology*