Magnetic resonance imaging of traumatic injury to the craniovertebral junction: A case-based review

Anil K. Roy, Brandon A. Miller, Christopher M. Holland, Arthur J. Fountain, Gustavo Pradilla, Faiz U. Ahmad

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Object: The craniovertebral junction (CVJ) is unique in the spinal column regarding the degree of multiplanar mobility allowed by its bony articulations. A network of ligamentous attachments provides stability to this junction. Although ligamentous injury can be inferred on CT scans through the utilization of craniometric measurements, the disruption of these ligaments can only be visualized directly with MRI. Here, the authors review the current literature on MRI evaluation of the CVJ following trauma and present several illustrative cases to highlight the utility and limitations of craniometric measures in the context of ligamentous injury at the CVJ. Methods: A retrospective case review was conducted to identify patients with cervical spine trauma who underwent cervical MRI and subsequently required occipitocervical or atlantoaxial fusion. Craniometric measurements were performed on the CT images in these cases. An extensive PubMed/MEDLINE literature search was conducted to identify publications regarding the use of MRI in the evaluation of patients with CVJ trauma. Results: The authors identified 8 cases in which cervical MRI was performed prior to operative stabilization of the CVJ. Craniometric measures did not reliably rule out ligamentous injury, and there was significant heterogeneity in the reliability of different craniometric measurements. A review of the literature revealed several case series and descriptive studies addressing MRI in CVJ trauma. Three papers reported the inadequacy of the historical Traynelis system for identifying atlantooccipital dislocation and presented 3 alternative classification schemes with emphasis on MRI findings. Conclusions: Recognition of ligamentous instability at the CVJ is critical in directing clinical decision making regarding surgical stabilization. Craniometric measures appear unreliable, and CT alone is unable to provide direct visualization of ligamentous injury. Therefore, while the decision to obtain MR images in CVJ trauma is largely based on clinical judgment with craniometric measures used as an adjunct, a high degree of suspicion is warranted in the care of these patients as a missed ligamentous injury can have devastating consequences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalNeurosurgical Focus
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© AANS, 2015.


  • Craniocervical
  • Craniovertebral
  • MRI
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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