Acute Cervical Spine Injuries: Prospective MR Imaging Assessment at a Level 1 Trauma Center

PURPOSE: To determine the weighted average sensitivity of magnetic resonance (MR) imaging in the prospective detection of acute neck injury and to compare these findings with those of a comprehensive conventional radiographic assessment.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Conventional radiography and MR imaging were performed in 199 patients presenting to a level 1 trauma center with suspected cervical spine injury. Weighted sensitivities and specificities were calculated, and a weighted average across eight vertebral levels from C1 to T1 was formed. Fourteen parameters indicative of acute injury were tabulated.

RESULTS: Fifty-eight patients had 172 acute cervical injuries. MR imaging depicted 136 (79%) acute abnormalities and conventional radiography depicted 39 (23%). For assessment of acute fractures, MR images (weighted average sensitivity, 43%; CI: 21%, 66%) were comparable to conventional radiographs (weighted average sensitivity, 48%; CI: 30%, 65%). MR imaging was superior to conventional radiography in the evaluation of pre- or paravertebral hemorrhage or edema, anterior or posterior longitudinal ligament injury, traumatic disk herniation, cord edema, and cord compression. Cord injuries were associated with cervical spine spondylosis (P < .05), acute fracture (P < .001), and canal stenosis (P < .001).

CONCLUSION: MR imaging is more accurate than radiography in the detection of a wide spectrum of neck injuries, and further study is warranted of its potential effect on medical decision making, clinical outcome, and cost-effectiveness.

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Article History

Published in print: Oct 1999