• horse;
  • computed tomography;
  • cervical vertebrae;
  • articular process joint;
  • spinal cord compression;
  • 3D anatomy


Reasons for study: Detailed anatomy of the equine cervical articular process joints (APJs) has received little attention in the literature and yet disorders of this joint have been linked to spinal cord compression resulting in severe clinical signs such as ataxia and weakness. This study aimed to describe the 3D anatomy of the APJ in relation to the spinal cord in the horse.

Hypothesis: Artificial distension of the APJ causes the joint pouches to extend into the vertebral canal, with the potential for APJ effusion to cause spinal cord compressive disease.

Methods: Six cadaveric necks (C1–C7) of clinically normal horses were used in this study. Computed tomography scans of the cervical APJ were acquired after injection of a negative contrast agent to maximal distension. The resulting images were semi-automatically segmented using greyscale thresholding and reconstructed in 3D by polygonal surface meshing. The 3D reconstructions were used to assess the topographic anatomy of the APJ in relation to the spinal cord and to measure joint volume at each cervical vertebra in relation to vertebrae size.

Results: Joint volume varied significantly between joint location (P<0.0001) and was positively correlated to the vertebral site (from cranial to caudal) (r = 0.781, P<0.0001). After distension, the medial outpouch of the APJ extended towards the vertebral canal from a dorsolateral location but in none of the 6 horses was there apparent compression of the dura mater surrounding the spinal cord. There was no significant difference in the extent of medial outpouch at any vertebral level (P = 0.104). Flexion of the neck resulted in minor changes to the shape of the APJ but did not result in the medial outpouch encroaching any closer to the spinal cord.

Conclusions: From this study, it appears that in the absence of any other soft tissue or bony changes an effusion of the APJ is unlikely to cause spinal cord compression. However, given that the APJ and spinal cord are in close approximation, in the presence of other anatomical changes, an effusion may have the potential to cause compression.

Potential relevance: This study confirms that the APJ extend into the dorsolateral aspect of the vertebral canal in a ventromedial direction, suggesting that oblique myelographic views are recommended for the diagnosis of spinal cord compression when pathology of the APJ is suspected.