Three-dimensional motion of the uncovertebral joint during head rotation

Clinical article

Yukitaka Nagamoto M.D., Ph.D.1, Takahiro Ishii M.D., Ph.D.2, Motoki Iwasaki M.D., Ph.D.1, Hironobu Sakaura M.D., Ph.D.3, Hisao Moritomo M.D., Ph.D.1, Takahito Fujimori M.D., Ph.D.1, Masafumi Kashii M.D., Ph.D.1, Tsuyoshi Murase M.D., Ph.D.1, Hideki Yoshikawa M.D., Ph.D.1, and Kazuomi Sugamoto M.D., Ph.D.1
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  • 1 Department of Orthopaedics, Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine;
  • | 2 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Kaizuka City Hospital, Osaka; and
  • | 3 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Kansai Rosai Hospital, Hyogo, Japan
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Object

The uncovertebral joints are peculiar but clinically important anatomical structures of the cervical vertebrae. In the aged or degenerative cervical spine, osteophytes arising from an uncovertebral joint can cause cervical radiculopathy, often necessitating decompression surgery. Although these joints are believed to bear some relationship to head rotation, how the uncovertebral joints work during head rotation remains unclear. The purpose of this study is to elucidate 3D motion of the uncovertebral joints during head rotation.

Methods

Study participants were 10 healthy volunteers who underwent 3D MRI of the cervical spine in 11 positions during head rotation: neutral (0°) and 15° increments to maximal head rotation on each side (left and right). Relative motions of the cervical spine were calculated by automatically superimposing a segmented 3D MR image of the vertebra in the neutral position over images of each position using the volume registration method. The 3D intervertebral motions of all 10 volunteers were standardized, and the 3D motion of uncovertebral joints was visualized on animations using data for the standardized motion. Inferred contact areas of uncovertebral joints were also calculated using a proximity mapping technique.

Results

The 3D animation of uncovertebral joints during head rotation showed that the joints alternate between contact and separation. Inferred contact areas of uncovertebral joints were situated directly lateral at the middle cervical spine and dorsolateral at the lower cervical spine. With increasing angle of rotation, inferred contact areas increased in the middle cervical spine, whereas areas in the lower cervical spine slightly decreased.

Conclusions

In this study, the 3D motions of uncovertebral joints during head rotation were depicted precisely for the first time.

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