Atlanto-occipital articulation

The atlanto-occipital articulation is comprised of a pair of condyloid synovial joints that connect the occiput (C0) to the first cervical vertebra (atlas/C1).


Each joint is comprised of two concave articular surfaces on the superior aspect of the lateral mass of atlas which articulate with a convex surface on the occipital condyle. The joint is reinforced by fibrous capsules which support each joint.

  • anterior atlanto-occipital membrane: dense, broad fibrous structure which connects the anterior arch of atlas to the anterior clivus; it is a continuation of the anterior longitudinal ligament and prevents excessive neck extension
  • posterior atlanto-occipital membrane: a broad but thin fibrous membrane which connects the posterior foramen magnum to the superior aspect of the posterior atlantal arch and blends with the joint capsule laterally

Variable degree of communication between atlanto-occipital joint and cavity between the dense and transverse ligament.

Allows for 25o of flexion/extension and around 5o of axial rotation.

Atlanto-occipital dissociation (AOD) represents the most common cervical spine injury following motor-vehicle accident and is usually highly unstable with significant neurological morbidity.

Spinal anatomy
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Article information

rID: 35478
Section: Anatomy
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Atlanto-occipital joint

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