Radiographic Appearance of the Odontoid Lateral Mass Interspace in the Occipitoatlantoaxial Complex

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1995 Oct 15;20(20):2221-5. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199510001-00008.


Study design: This is an anatomic study in which the odontoid lateral mass interspace is evaluated radiographically in various positions of upper cervical spine rotation.

Objectives: The objectives are to determine whether odontoid lateral mass interspace asymmetry exists in the ligamentously intact cervical spine and to define odontoid lateral mass interspace behavior during atlantoaxial rotation.

Summary of background data: Controversy exists regarding the behavior of the odontoid lateral mass interspace during atlantoaxial rotation. The meaning of interspace asymmetry varies depending on the author and the method of study. Atlas fractures account for 7% of cervical spine fractures and are frequently associated with other cervical fractures, so an understanding of the radiographic anatomy is crucial to the evaluation of these patients.

Methods: Ten human cadaveric cervical spines were dissected of all but ligamentous soft tissue and were mounted and prepared for radiographic study in neutral position and in varying degrees of right and left rotation. Radiographs were evaluated for odontoid lateral mass interspace asymmetry in neutral and in rotated positions, and data were analyzed.

Results: Measurable asymmetry could be shown when comparing neutral positions and when comparing rotated with neutral positions. A statistically significant difference could not be proven in this asymmetry, although clinical significance is suggested by the analysis of the data.

Conclusion: Measurable asymmetry can be present in the neutrally positioned, ligamentously intact atlanto-axial complex and is not necessarily indicative of instability. This agrees with the concept of the "neutral zone" as described by White and Panjabi in Clinical Biomechanics of the Spine. There is a trend for increasing odontoid lateral mass interspace on the side to which the head is rotated, and this odontoid lateral mass interspace is measurably different from the contralateral odontoid lateral mass interspace, indicating that odontoid lateral mass interspace asymmetry is not a good indicator for cervical instability in the otherwise asymptomatic individual.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Atlanto-Axial Joint / physiology*
  • Atlanto-Occipital Joint / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Odontoid Process / anatomy & histology*
  • Odontoid Process / diagnostic imaging
  • Radiography
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology*