The purpose of this in vitro experimental study was to determine the role of alar ligaments in providing flexion, extension, and lateral bending stability to the upper cervical spine. Ten fresh human cadaver specimens occiput-C3 were studied in a complete unconstrained and three-dimensional manner, first intact and then after sequential cutting of the left and right alar ligaments. At the C0-C1 joint, there were increases in flexion motion with sequential cutting of the alar ligaments but none in extension. For the same joint, cutting of the left alar ligament resulted in a significant increase in neutral zone in right lateral bending but not in left lateral bending, whereas there were no significant increases in the ranges of motion. At the C1-C2 joint, there were significant increases both in flexion and extension due to cutting of the left alar ligament, but subsequent cutting of the right alar ligament resulted in a small increase for flexion only. At this joint, right lateral bending increased due to cutting of the left alar ligament, but the same was not true for the left lateral bending. Subsequent cutting of the right alar ligament resulted in significant increases for both the right and left lateral bendings.
Keywords: Upper cervical spine kinematics; Occipito-atlanto axial joints; Spinal instability; Biomechanics