Diagnostic accuracy of magnetic resonance imaging for detecting posterior ligamentous complex injury associated with thoracic and lumbar fractures

J Neurosurg. 2003 Jul;99(1 Suppl):20-6. doi: 10.3171/spi.2003.99.1.0020.


Object: The posterior ligamentous complex (PLC) in the thoracic and lumbar spine is one of the region's important stabilizers. The precise diagnosis of PLC injury is required to evaluate the instability of the injured spine; however, the accuracy of magnetic resonance (MR) imaging for diagnosing PLC injury has remained unclear. In this study, the authors compared preoperative MR imaging findings with direct intraoperative observation of PLC injury, clarifying the former's diagnostic accuracy regarding detection of PLC injury associated with the thoracic and lumbar fractures.

Methods: Data obtained in 35 patients who sustained thoracic or lumbar injuries were reviewed. There were 17 burst fractures, six flexion-distraction injuries, and 12 fracture dislocations. Each patient underwent MR imaging examination within 3 weeks of injury. Three radiologists independently evaluated sagittal MR images in a blinded fashion. The PLC-related information was retrospectively collected from each operative record. The diagnostic accuracy of MR imaging was analyzed by comparing imaging-documented intraoperative findings. The PLC injuries were detected in 23 patients (65.7%) by direct observation during posterior spinal procedures. The diagnostic accuracy of MR imaging in detecting injury of the supraspinous ligament (SSL) and interspinous ligament (ISL) was 90.5 and 94.3%, respectively. The specificity of T1-weighted MR imaging alone for depicting the SSL was significantly greater than T2-weighted imaging alone (p < 0.05). The overall mean kappa coefficient for MR imaging findings of PLC injury was 0.803, which indicated excellent interobserver reliability; that for ISL (0.915) was significantly greater than that for SSL (0.69) (p < 0.05).

Conclusions: This study clarified a high diagnostic accuracy and interobserver reliability of MR imaging for PLC injury. The precise diagnosis of PLC injury is essential to determine the mechanical instability of the injured thoracic and lumbar spine, especially in differentiating unstable (three-column) burst fractures from the relatively stable (two-column) type. The authors conclude that MR imaging is a powerful diagnostic tool to evaluate PLC injury associated with thoracic and lumbar fractures.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Joint Instability / diagnosis*
  • Joint Instability / surgery
  • Ligaments / injuries*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / standards*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Spinal Fractures / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Fractures / surgery
  • Spinal Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Injuries / surgery
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / surgery