Retropharyngeal space: evaluation of normal anatomy and diseases with CT and MR imaging

Radiology. 1990 Jan;174(1):59-64. doi: 10.1148/radiology.174.1.2294573.


A retrospective analysis of computed tomographic (CT) and magnetic resonance (MR) images and clinical records of 39 patients with retropharyngeal space (RPS) lesions was completed. The review was undertaken to answer the following questions: (a) what is the spectrum of lesions of the RPS? (b) what imaging features mark a lesion as originating in the RPS? and (c) is there a difference between the radiologic pattern of the suprahyoid and infrahyoid portions of the neck? Of the 39 patients in the study, nine had RPS infections, 17 had RPS malignancies, two had benign tumors, seven had RPS pseudotumors, and four had hematoma or air in the RPS after trauma. RPS lesions demonstrated two distinct radiologic patterns: a nodal pattern and a nonnodal pattern. The nodal pattern, found only in the suprahyoid neck, occurs when infection or tumor begins in the lymph nodes of the RPS. The lesions may be unilateral or bilateral, but the middle part of the RPS is spared. The nonnodal pattern, found primarily in the infrahyoid RPS, results when the infection or tumor directly invades the RPS or goes beyond the nodes of the RPS. The nonnodal lesion appears rectangular and spans the RPS from side to side.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / diagnosis
  • Cellulitis / diagnosis
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Lymphatic System / anatomy & histology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Pharynx / anatomy & histology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*