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Traumatic atlanto-occipital dislocation in children—a case-based update on clinical characteristics, management and outcome

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Atlanto-occipital dislocation (AOD) is a rare but severe sequela of high energy trauma. Children are at increased risk, due to their immature spine and biomechanical characteristics.

Literature review

The prevailing mechanism of injury is motor vehicle collision as passenger. AOD commonly presents with cardiorespiratory arrest, spinal cord injury or cranial nerve deficits. Concomitant injuries, such as traumatic brain injury, are frequently encountered. Diagnosis is made on CT and MRI imaging. Posterior internal fixation is the recommended treatment. Thirty-four percent of patients die, 41 % survive with deficits and 25 % have a complete neurological recovery. Initial symptoms, GCS score and degree of spinal cord injury appear to be predictors of outcome.

Illustrative case

We report the case of a 9-year-old boy, who presented in extremis with cardiac arrest after a motor vehicle collision. Upon successful resuscitation, diagnostic imaging showed AOD and a Chiari I malformation. An occiput-C2 posterior instrumented fusion was performed. The patient subsequently received intensive rehabilitation and recovered to independent ambulation, with a persistent, asymptomatic Chiari I malformation.


This case highlights the potential for positive outcome in paediatric AOD, despite the presence of strong predictors of poor or fatal outcome at presentation.

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Correspondence to Thomas Beez.

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The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.


The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.

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Beez, T., Brown, J. Traumatic atlanto-occipital dislocation in children—a case-based update on clinical characteristics, management and outcome. Childs Nerv Syst 33, 27–33 (2017).

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