We examined the MR appearance of the hindbrain deformity, including the upper cervical spinal canal and craniovertebral junction, in 33 patients with Chiari II malformation. In this disorder, there is impaction at birth of the medulla and cerebellar vermis into the upper cervical spine, resulting in obliteration of the subarachnoid space and scalloping of the dens. Spinal canal enlargement during the child's growth, combined with dorsal displacement of neural tissue, eventually causes marked widening of the precervical subarachnoid space. This enlargement may simulate an intradural mass. Our series documents the changes seen at birth and the progression of the widened precervical space through the first and second decades. Twelve (36%) of the 33 patients studied were symptomatic, with brainstem or long-tract symptomatology, and 11 of these required surgery. This group was compared with the remaining 21 asymptomatic Chiari II patients to identify MR features associated with clinical deterioration. The level of descent of the hindbrain hernia was critical; eight of 12 symptomatic patients had a cervicomedullary kink at C4 or lower, while no asymptomatic patients had a fourth ventricle, medulla, or kink below C3-C4. The precervical cord subarachnoid space was slightly wider in asymptomatic patients, although there was great overlap. In five patients with follow-up scans, this space was seen to increase in width after laminectomy. A CSF flow void was present in the precervical space in about 25% of patients in both groups. In nine of 12 sympatomatic patients, C1 arch indentation of the dura (causing significant compression) was confirmed surgically. However, seven (33%) of the 21 asymptomatic patients also had this appearance. Absolute measurement of the anteroposterior diameter of the canal at C1 ranged from 11 to 25 mm in both groups. Retrocollis, which persisted despite sedation for MR, was seen in two patients, both symptomatic. Recognition of the vermis, medullary kink, cervical cord, C1 arch, fourth ventricle, and precervical space in Chiari II patients is fundamental to the analysis of symptoms in these patients, and is important for preoperative evaluation.