Exposure of the vertebral artery (VA) between C-1 and C-2 vertebrae (atlantoaxial VA) may be necessary in a variety of pathologies of the craniovertebral junction. Current methods to expose this segment of the VA entail sharp dissection of muscles close to the internal jugular vein and the spinal accessory nerve. The present study assesses the technique of exposing the atlantoaxial VA through a newly defined muscular triangle at the craniovertebral junction.
Five cadaveric heads were prepared for surgical simulation in prone position, turned 30°–45° toward the side of exposure. The atlantoaxial VA was exposed through the subatlantic triangle after reflecting the sternocleidomastoid and splenius capitis muscles inferiorly. The subatlantic triangle was formed by 3 groups of muscles: 1) the levator scapulae and splenius cervicis muscles inferiorly and laterally, 2) the longissimus capitis muscle inferiorly and medially, and 3) the inferior oblique capitis superiorly. The lengths of the VA exposed through the triangle before and after unroofing the C-2 transverse foramen were measured.
The subatlantic triangle consistently provided access to the whole length of atlantoaxial VA. The average length of the VA exposed via the subatlantic triangle was 19.5 mm. This average increased to 31.5 mm after the VA was released at the C-2 transverse foramen.
The subatlantic triangle provides a simple and straightforward pathway to expose the atlantoaxial VA. The proposed method may be useful during posterior approaches to the craniovertebral junction should early exposure and control of the atlantoaxial VA become necessary.