Atlanto-axial rotatory displacement is known to be a cause of childhood torticollis and may as well be responsible for chronic neck pain after rear-end automobile collisions. The objective was to determine whether quantification of C2 malrotation is possible by plain radiographs in comparison to CT as the golden standard. MR imaging was evaluated as to whether it was of equal value in the detection of bony landmarks. C2 vertebra of five human cadaveric cervical spine specimens, ligamentously intact, were rotated using a Steinmann pin in steps of 5 degrees up to 15 degrees right and 15 degrees left. Plain radiographs, CT and MRI images were taken in each rotational step. Data were analyzed for quantification of C2 rotation by three independent examiners. A rotation of 5 degrees led to a spinous process deviation (SPD) from the midline of 3 mm as measured on an a.p. plain radiograph. A coefficient of rotation was calculated (1.62 degrees mm(-1)). Data analyzed by three examiners revealed a small coefficient of variation (0.03). MRI and CT measurements showed comparable results for the quantification of rotation; however, in both techniques the 15 degrees rotation was underestimated. Quantification of upper cervical spine malrotation was possible on plain radiographs using the SPD and a rotation coefficient. MRI and CT were equally successful in the assessment of C2 malrotation.