Objective: To prospectively document musculoskeletal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) use and how it affects diagnosis, playing status, and treatment of Division I university athletes. We hypothesized that MRI often has little or no effect on the diagnosis or treatment plan.
Design: Cross-sectional study.
Setting: Division I university sports medicine program.
Patients: Division I university varsity athletes.
Interventions: Data were collected of musculoskeletal MRI use in varsity student athletes for 2 full academic years from 2010 to 2012 at a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I institution.
Main outcome measures: Timing of the injury, first physician visit, and MRI and pre- and post-MRI diagnosis, playing status, and treatment (surgical vs nonsurgical).
Results: Eighty-six MRIs were obtained during the 2 years studied. Average age was 19.9 (18-23) years. Forty-five percent of injuries occurred during competition season, 34% occurred preseason, and 21% occurred postseason. There was a change in diagnosis in 13 athletes (15.1%, 1 led to surgery performed after completion of the season), and there was a change in participation status in 8 athletes (9.3%, 5 increased and 3 decreased). Treatment plan changed in 1 athlete (1.2%). No athlete required surgery immediately after an MRI that was not already being planned. Every athlete treated nonsurgically pre-MRI was able to finish their season.
Conclusions: Magnetic resonance imaging was obtained in 14% of athletes and did not demonstrate a clear benefit over history, examination, and radiographs. Magnetic resonance imaging did change diagnosis in 15% of cases, though it did not appreciably change the playing status or treatment plan.