Aims: We wished to investigate the role of the cervical ligaments in maintaining atlantoaxial stability after fracture of the odontoid process. Methods: We dissected eight fresh-frozen cadaveric cervical spines to prepare the C1 and C2 vertebrae for biomechanical analysis. The C1 and C2 blocks were mounted and biomechanical analysis was performed to test the stability of the C1-C2 complex after cutting the odontoid process to create an Anderson and D’Alonzo type II fracture then successive division of the atlantoaxial ligaments. Biomechanical analysis of stiffness, expressed as Young’s modulus, was performed under right rotation, left rotation and anterior displacement. Results: The mean Young’s modulus in anterior displacement decreased by 37% when the odontoid process was fractured (p = 0.038, 95% confidence interval 0.04–1.07). The mean Young’s modulus in anterior displacement decreased proportionally (compared to the previous dissection) by the following percentages when the structures were divided: facet joint capsules (bilateral) 16%, ligamentum flavum 27%, anterior longitudinal ligament 10%. These differences did not reach statistical significance (p > 0.05). Discussion: We have found that the odontoid process itself may account for up to 37% of the stiffness of the C1-C2 complex and that soft tissue structures account for further resistance to movement. We suggest magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the soft tissues in the acute setting of a minimally displaced odontoid process fracture to plan management of the injury. If the MRI determines that there is associated ligament injury it is likely that the fracture is unstable and we would suggest operative management.