Interpreting cervical spine x-rays in the pediatric population can be a challenge due to normal anatomic variants. At age 8-10 a child's cervical spine reaches adult proportions. Normal variants to be considered in the younger populations include:
1. The atlantodens interval (ADI) may be up to 5mm in the pediatric patient whereas the upper limit of normal is 3mm in an adult.
2. Pseudo-Jefferson fracture: up to 6mm displacement of the lateral masses of atlas on the axis on the open mouth view is normal for children up to age 7.
3. Pseudo-subluxation of C2 on C3 (and to a lesser extent C3 on C4): normal mobility of upper cervical spine (due to ligamentous laxity) can cause up to a 4mm anterior displacement of C2 on C3. The Swischuk line - a line drawn through the posterior arch of C2 should be within 2mm of the spinolaminar line drawn at C1-C3 - can be used to determine whether this finding is normal or due to possible hangman's fracture. A discrepancy of > 2mm can indicate a fracture.
4. Anterior "wedging" of up to 3mm is a normal finding.
5. Ossification centers and unfused apophyses may mimic fractures.
6. Absence of cervical spine lordosis may be seen up to age 16.
Curtin P and McElwain J. Assessment of the "nearly normal" cervical spine radiograph: C2-C3 pseudosubluxation in an adult with whiplash injury. Emerg Med J 2005;22:907-8.
Lustrin ES, Karakas SP, Ortiz AO, et al. Pediatric cervical spine: normal anatomy, variants, and trauma. Radiographics 2003;23:539-60.