Exclusion of unstable cervical spine injury in obtunded patients with blunt trauma: is MR imaging needed when multi-detector row CT findings are normal?

Radiology. 2005 Oct;237(1):106-13. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2371040697.


Purpose: To retrospectively determine what information, if any, magnetic resonance (MR) imaging of the cervical spine in obtunded and/or "unreliable" patients with blunt trauma adds to multi-detector row computed tomography (CT) of the entire cervical spine (including routine multiplanar sagittal and coronal reformations) when the CT findings are normal.

Materials and methods: The study was HIPAA compliant and institutional review board approved. Informed consent was not required. From April 2001 to November 2003, 1400 trauma patients underwent MR imaging of the cervical spine to evaluate potential cervical spine injuries. Multi-detector row CT of the cervical spine was performed with a four- or 16-detector row scanner. MR imaging of the cervical spine was performed with transverse gradient-echo, sagittal intermediate-weighted, sagittal short inversion time inversion-recovery, and sagittal T1- and T2-weighted fast spin-echo sequences. Many MR examinations were performed to exclude soft-tissue injuries in the cervical spine of obtunded patients with blunt trauma in whom cervical spine injury could not be excluded with physical examination. Complete cervical spine MR studies were obtained to evaluate soft-tissue injuries in 366 obtunded patients with blunt trauma (281 male and 85 female patients; age range, 13-92 years; mean age, 42.1 years). The patients had previously undergone total cervical spine multi-detector row CT with normal findings. The results obtained with these two modalities were compared.

Results: MR images were negative for acute injury in 354 of the 366 patients and negative for cervical spine ligamentous injury in 362. Seven of the 366 patients had cervical cord contusions, four patients had ligamentous injuries, three patients had intervertebral disk edema, and one patient had a cord contusion, a ligamentous injury, and an intervertebral disk injury. Four patients had ligamentous injuries; however, all of these patients had ligament injuries limited to only one of the three columns of cervical spine ligament support. Multi-detector row CT had negative predictive values of 98.9% (362 of 366 patients) for ligament injury and 100% (366 of 366 patients) for unstable cervical spine injury.

Conclusion: A normal multi-detector row CT scan of the total cervical spine in obtunded and/or "unreliable" patients with blunt trauma enabled the authors to exclude unstable injuries on the basis of findings at follow-up cervical spine MR imaging.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cervical Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ligaments, Articular / injuries
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / diagnosis
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnosis*