The effect of patient age on the internal carotid artery location around the atlas

J Neurosurg Spine. 2010 Jun;12(6):613-8. doi: 10.3171/2010.1.SPINE09409.


Object: The aim of this study was to analyze the exact location of the internal carotid artery (ICA) relative to the C-1 lateral mass and describe the effect of age on the tortuosity of the ICA.

Methods: The authors analyzed 641 patients who had undergone CT angiography to evaluate the location of the ICA in relation to the C-1 lateral mass. Each patient was assigned to 1 of 3 age groups (< 41 years, 41-60 years, and > 60 years of age). The degree of lateral positioning of the ICA was classified into 4 groups: Group 1 (lateral to the C-1 lateral mass), Group 2 (lateral half of the lateral mass), Group 3 (medial half of the lateral mass), or Group 4 (medial to the lateral mass). The anteroposterior relationship of the ICA was classified into Group A (posterior to the anterior tubercle) or Group B (anterior to the anterior tubercle). Distances from the ICA to the midline, anterior tubercle, and anterior cortex of the lateral mass were measured. Distances between the lateral margin of the lateral mass and the longus capitis muscle were also evaluated.

Results: The prevalence of the ICA located in front of the lateral mass (Groups 2 and 3) was 47.4% overall. The position of the ICA changes with age due to vessel tortuosity. Only 18.3% of patients in the youngest age group (< 41 years of age) had an ICA in front of the lateral mass (Group 2 or 3 area). However, this percentage increased in the older 2 groups (43.5% in the 41-60 year old group, and 57% in the > 60-year-old age group). The mean distance from the midline to the ICA was 22.6 mm, and the mean distance from the ICA to the C-1 anterior tubercle and the ventral cortex of the lateral mass was 4.7 and 4.5 mm, respectively. Moreover, the ICA is more prone to injury during bicortical C-1 screw placement when the longus capitis muscle is hypotrophic and does not cover the entire ventral surface of the lateral mass.

Conclusions: Elderly patients have a higher incidence of a medially located ICA that may contribute to the risk of injury to the ICA during bicortical C-1 screw or C1-2 transarticular screw placement. Although the small number of reported cases of ICA injury does not allow for determination of a direct relationship with specific anatomical characteristics, the presence of unfavorable anatomy does warrant serious consideration during evaluation for C-1 screw placement in elderly patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Angiography
  • Carotid Artery, Internal / anatomy & histology*
  • Carotid Artery, Internal / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • POE sorbitan lanolate