The current role of magnetic resonance imaging for diagnosing cervical spine injury in blunt trauma patients with negative computed tomography scan

Am Surg. 2012 Oct;78(10):1156-60. doi: 10.1177/000313481207801032.


Clearance of cervical spine (CS) precautions in the neurologically altered blunt trauma patient can be difficult. Physical examination is not reliable, and although computed tomography (CT) may reveal no evidence of fracture, it is generally believed to be an inferior modality for assessing ligamentous and cord injuries. However, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is expensive and may be risky in critically ill patients. Conversely, prolonged rigid collar use is associated with pressure ulceration and other complications. Multidetector CT raises the possibility of clearing CS on the basis of CT alone. We performed a retrospective review at our Level I trauma center of all blunt trauma patients with Glasgow Coma Scale Score 14 or less who underwent both CT and MRI CS with negative CT. One hundred fourteen patients met inclusion criteria, of which 23 had MRI findings. Seven (6%) of these had neurologic deficits and/or a change in management on the basis of MRI findings. Although use of the single-slice scanner was significantly associated with MRI findings (odds ratio, 2.62; P=0.023), no significant clinical risk factors were identified. Patients with MRI findings were heterogeneous in terms of age, mechanism, and Injury Severity Score. We conclude that CS MRI continues play a vital role in the workup of neurologically altered patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnosis*
  • Young Adult