Frostbite: Spectrum of Imaging Findings and Guidelines for Management

Radiographics. 2016 Nov-Dec;36(7):2154-2169. doi: 10.1148/rg.2016160045. Epub 2016 Aug 5.


Frostbite is a localized cold thermal injury that results from tissue freezing. Frostbite injuries can have a substantial effect on long-term limb function and mobility if not promptly evaluated and treated. Imaging plays a critical role in initial evaluation of frostbite injuries and in monitoring response to treatment. A multimodality approach involving radiography, digital subtraction angiography (DSA), and/or multiphase bone scintigraphy with hybrid single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)/computed tomography (CT) is often necessary for optimal guidance of frostbite care. Radiographs serve as an initial survey of the affected limb and may demonstrate characteristic findings, depending on the time course and severity of injury. DSA is used to evaluate perfusion of affected soft tissues and identify potential targets for therapeutic intervention. Angiography-directed thrombolysis plays an essential role in tissue preservation and salvage in deep frostbite injuries. Multiphase bone scintigraphy with technetium 99m-labeled diphosphonate provides valuable information regarding the status of tissue viability after initial treatment. The addition of SPECT/CT to multiphase bone scintigraphy enables precise anatomic localization of the level and depth of tissue necrosis before its appearance at physical examination and can help uncover subtle findings that may remain occult at scintigraphy alone. Multiphase bone scintigraphy with SPECT/CT is the modality of choice for prognostication and planning of definitive surgical care of affected limbs. Appropriate use of imaging to direct frostbite care can help limit the effects that these injuries have on limb function and mobility. ©RSNA, 2016.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Angiography, Digital Subtraction / standards*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Frostbite / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Multimodal Imaging / standards
  • Multiple Trauma / diagnostic imaging
  • Osteonecrosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Radiology / standards*
  • Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography Computed Tomography / standards*
  • Soft Tissue Injuries / diagnostic imaging
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / standards*
  • United States