Acute swelling of the limbs: magnetic resonance pictorial review of fascial and muscle signal changes

Eur J Radiol. 1999 Apr;30(1):11-21. doi: 10.1016/s0720-048x(98)00119-3.


Objective: This pictorial review analyzes the magnetic resonance (MR) fascial/muscular changes in 69 patients referred as emergencies with acute swelling of the limbs (ASL) from various causes.

Methods and material: A prospective MR imaging (MRI) study of 69 patients referred as emergencies for ASL was performed. Our population consisted of 45 patients with skin and soft-tissue infections (cellulitis and necrotizing fasciitis, and pyomyositis), six patients with soft-tissue inflammatory diseases (dermatomyositis, graft-versus-host disease), 11 patients with acute deep venous thrombosis, three patients with rhabdomyolysis, one patient with acute denervation and three other patients with rare diseases. Hematomas, tumorous or infectious bone involvement and soft-tissue tumors were excluded. All studies included spin echo T1-weighted images and spin echo T2-weighted images. Gadolinium-enhanced spin echo T1-weighted images were obtained when an abscess was suspected on T2-weighted images. Selective fat-saturated T1- and T2-weighted sequences were also used. MRI analysis was performed to obtain a compartmentalized anatomical approach according to the location of signal abnormalities in subcutaneous fat, superficial and deep fascia and muscle.

Results: In all patients with ASL, MRI demonstrated soft-tissue abnormalities involving subcutaneous fat, superficial fascia, deep fascia, or muscle. Although MR findings were non-specific, MRI appears sensitive for detecting subtle fascial and muscle signal changes.

Conclusions: In skin and soft-tissue infections, MRI can be helpful for therapeutic management by determining the depth of soft-tissue involvement, particularly within fasciae and muscles, which is partly related to the severity of cellulitis with severe systemic manifestations. MRI can also aid the surgeon in diagnosing abscesses. In inflammatory diseases, MRI can determine the best site for biopsy and also monitor therapeutic response.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Extremities*
  • Fascia / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology*
  • Soft Tissue Infections / diagnosis