People with Down's syndrome are pre-disposed to atlantoaxial instability. As part of a study to determine whether those with Down's syndrome should be screened for atlantoaxial instability before they participate in sport, a series of 279 children, aged 6 to 17 years was investigated radiologically. Lateral radiographs of the cervical spine were taken in neutral position and in flexion. The magnification factor was assessed by means of a marker attached to the nape of the neck. After correction for magnification 15% of the patients were found to have an atlantoaxial distance greater than 4 mm on the flexion film, especially boys under 11 years of age. However, sex and age together explained at most 9% of the variation in atlantoaxial distance. The maximum distance found was 6.5 mm. The disagreement between the means of first and second measurements by the same (test-retest) and by another (inter-) observer was more for those taken in the neutral position than in flexion. On a group level the results for reliability were satisfactory.
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