Purpose: To analyse and classify structural changes in the transverse ligament in the late stage of whiplash injury by use of high-resolution MRI, and to evaluate the reliability of our classification.
Material and methods: Ninety-two whiplash-injured (2-9 years previously, mean 6 years) and 30 non-injured individuals underwent proton-weighted MR imaging of the craniovertebral junction in three orthogonal planes. Structural changes in the transverse ligaments were graded twice (grades 1-3) based on increased signal, independently by 3 radiologists with a 4-month interval. Inter- and intraobserver statistics were calculated by ordinary and weighted kappa (K).
Results: Image quality was excellent in 109 cases and slightly reduced in 13. Twenty-two out of 30 ligaments in the control group were classified as normal (73%) compared with only 32 out of 92 in the injured group (36%). Two or all 3 observers agreed in their grading in 101 out of 122 ligaments (83%). Intraobserver agreement (weighted K) was fair to good (0.33-0.73). Pair-wise interobserver agreement was fair (0.24-0.39). Reasons for divergent grading were insufficient knowledge of normal variations, low signal intensity in the peridental soft tissue obscuring the ligament and interpretation flaw.
Conclusion: Whiplash trauma can damage the transverse ligament. By use of high-resolution proton-weighted MR images such lesions can be detected and classified. The reliability of this classification still needs improvement.