In the treatment of spine fractures and fracture‐dislocations, stability of the spine is one of the major objectives. In the craniocervical joint, the alar and transverse ligaments provide much of the stability of the healthy spine. Because the anatomy appears well described, the contribution of each of these structures so far has received little attention. The alar ligament restrains rotation of the upper cervical spine, whereas the transverse ligament restricts flexion as well as anterior displacement of the atlas. A lesion in one or both structures can produce damage to the neural structures and/or cause pain. To investigate the possible role of each of these ligaments, a mechanical and histologic study of the upper cervical spine was made. The bone‐ligament‐bone complex of the alar and transverse ligaments was subjected to unlaxial mechanical testing in seven specimens. The alar ligaments had an in vitro strength of 200 N, and the transverse ligaments had an in vitro strength of 350 N. Histologic analysis revealed a mainly collagenous nature of these ligaments. Clinical evidence (broken odontoid processes) suggests that the transverse ligament is strong enough to withstand physiologic loads. The alar ligament, on the other hand, due to its lower strength and its axial direction of loading, might be prone to injury and therefore require stabilization of the appropriate vertebra more often than normally is assumed.
Keywords: Alar ligament; Transverse ligament; Occipito-atlanto-axial instability; Whiplash injury; Biomechanics