Diagnosing and Treating Craniocervical Disorders

If symptoms appear suddenly or suddenly get worse, it is important to see a doctor immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment of craniocervical junction disorders can often reverse symptoms or prevent permanent disability.

Advanced imaging and treatment options are used to diagnose and manage craniocervical disorders.

Diagnostic Testing
Craniocervical junction disorders are usually diagnosed using imaging tests, which include:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Dynamic Xray or CT to evaluate changes with movement
  • Myelography with CT
  • CT angiography

Craniocervical Junction Disorder Treatments
Not all craniocervical junction disorders require surgery. Our team of specialists works together to create a treatment plan that will help reduce head and neck pain, and other issues caused by craniocervical instability. The primary goal is to determine the spine’s stability and prevent injury to the brain, spine or nerves.

Realignment, traction and immobilization of affected structures:
The craniocervical junction structures may be putting pressure on the brain, spinal cord or nerves. Doctors will try to realign (correctly position) the structures using a device, such as traction, or by manipulation (adjusting or moving the head).

Traction uses devices, such as weights and pulleys, to put tension on the affected bone or joint. The tension helps put the head and neck structures back in position to relieve the pressure.

After the head and neck structures are realigned, a brace may be used to keep the head and neck from moving. These devices may include a halo ring (neck brace) and a halo vest (back brace). After the device is applied, x-rays are taken to ensure the structures are held securely in the correct alignment.

Other non-surgical treatments include drugs such as bisphosphonates and calcitonin, which improve bone density.

Surgery for a craniocervical junction disorder:
Surgery may be necessary if traction or manipulation are not effective. Surgery is done to relieve pressure in the craniocervical junction, stabilize the structures or both. Devices, including metal plates or rods with screws, are used to securely hold the bones in place until they fuse and become stable.

Reviewed by: Jeffrey Greenfield, MD, PhD
Last reviewed/last updated: March 2022

Our Care Team

  • Vice Chair for Academic Affairs
  • Professor of Neurological Surgery, Pediatric Neurosurgery
  • Associate Residency Director
Phone: 212-746-2363
  • Hansen-MacDonald Professor of Neurological Surgery
  • Director of Spinal Surgery
Phone: 212-746-2152
  • Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery in Neurological Surgery
  • Director, Orthopedic Spine Surgery
Phone: 212-746-1164
  • Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery
Phone: 646-962-3388
  • Assistant Professor, Neurosurgery 
Phone: (888) 922-2257

Weill Cornell Medicine Neurological Surgery 525 East 68 Street, Box 99 New York, NY 10065 Phone: 866-426-7787