The anterior shear and distraction tests for craniocervical instability. An evaluation using magnetic resonance imaging

Man Ther. 2012 Oct;17(5):416-21. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2012.03.010. Epub 2012 May 3.


Screening for integrity of the ligaments of the craniocervical complex has been suggested prior to the application of manual techniques to the upper cervical spine. However, most tests proposed lack validation limiting their usefulness clinically. This study examined the effect of the anterior shear test for the transverse ligament and the distraction test for the tectorial membrane in normal volunteers. MRI was performed in supine in neutral and end-range stress test positions in 16 individuals using proton density-weighted sequences and a standard head coil in a 3-T system. Measurements were made with respect to a strictly standardised protocol. The anterior shear test was assessed using changes in atlantodental interval and distance from the anterior arch of the atlas to the posterior aspect of the odontoid process. Distraction testing for the tectorial membrane was assessed by changes in basion-dental interval and by direct measurement of the tectorial membrane. Differences were compared using Wilcoxon Sign Rank tests or paired t-test depending upon each variables assessment of normality. Anterior shear testing resulted in a 0.41 mm mean increase in atlantodental interval (p = 0.03) and 0.35 mm mean increase in axial plane distance (p = 0.05). Distraction testing for the tectorial membrane resulted in a 0.64 mm increase in basion-dental interval (p < 0.01) and a 1.11 mm increase in direct ligament length measurement (p = 0.02). Reliability of measurements ranged from moderate to substantial. These results indicate that these tests produce a consistent direct effect on the transverse ligament and the tectorial membrane which is consistent with their theorised mechanism for clinical use.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cervical Vertebrae / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Joint Instability / diagnosis*
  • Joint Instability / etiology
  • Joint Instability / physiopathology*
  • Ligaments, Articular / physiopathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Shear Strength
  • Tectorial Membrane / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult