Atlantoaxial Instability/C1-2 Disorders

What is degenerative atlantoaxial instability?

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The atlantoaxial complex refers to the first two bones of the neck (C1, the atlas, and C2, the axis) as well as the associated collection of ligaments that connect the bones together and the blood vessels that travel through them to the brain.

The atlantoaxial complex is primarily responsible for enabling the head to rotate, or turn to the left and right, while also protecting the spinal cord from injury. Because of its role in movement, it is, unfortunately, commonly injured. The bones are susceptible to fracture from high-energy impact such as falls or car accidents, especially in the elderly. The ligaments holding the bones together can also be injured in trauma, or weakened in certain inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or Down syndrome.

When the bones or ligaments of the atlantoaxial complex are injured, the spinal cord is at particular risk for injury, and surgical treatment is often indicated. Surgery is often challenging because of the shape of the C1 and C2 bones, and because the vertebral arteries pass in and around these two bones on the way to the brain. 

Why rely on Washington University experts for treatment of your atlantoaxial instability?

The complex anatomy of the C1 and C2 bones of your neck is unique both in appearance and function. Surgery to address problems in this area can be risky. Washington University neurosurgeons have extensive experience treating problems in this area and are recognized nationally as experts in providing innovative treatments for this unique and complex area of the neck.

Atlantoaxial Instability Treatment

Our surgeons provide a full range of treatments including non-surgical options as well as surgical repair. 

Often times if surgery is required, the bones between C1 and C2 are fused together, requiring less than 48 hours of an in-hospital stay.

Our surgeons can discuss with you the various treatment options for your specific condition.