If you have never heard about an atlanto-occipital dislocation in the past, it’s a good idea to get to know what it is and why it’s so important not to move if you suspect a neck or head injury after a collision.
An atlanto-occipital dislocation, which may be better known as internal decapitation, occurs when the skull is separated from the spine. The ligaments that attach the skull and spine are severed in the collision. The bones are still connected.
Between 70% and 99% of cases of this condition result in instant death, but some people do survive.
The rarity of internal decapitation means that most people who suffer neck or head injuries in a collision likely do not have it. However, the possibility of surviving this condition is why you should never move someone who has a head or neck injury. Emergency teams are trained to stabilize the head and neck as victims are moves so that it’s unlikely that further damage will occur.
Who is most likely to suffer from an internal decapitation?
Anyone who is involved in a severe crash could end up with this condition, but it’s more likely to be present in children than adults. This is because children have heavier heads than adults (proportionally) and the ligaments are softer.
It’s also important to note that a full internal decapitation is fairly unlikely, but it is possible for ligament tears to lead to partial dislocations that make the connection between the skull and spine unstable. In any case, those with suspected head and neck injuries should not be moved unless by a medical professional.
What does the recovery look like for those with an atlanto-occipital dislocation?
For those who survive, recovery can’t begin until the head and spine are stabilized. This requires surgery to reattach the head and neck with screws, wires, and rods that stabilize the area. After surgery, patients usually need long-term physical therapy and may have chronic pain or symptoms of numbness, tingling or paralysis, depending on the damage to the spinal cord.
Recovery is costly. For those who have been hurt, it’s often necessary to pursue compensation from at-fault drivers or other parties responsible for the collision.