ACR Appropriateness Criteria® Suspected Physical Abuse-Child

J Am Coll Radiol. 2017 May;14(5S):S338-S349. doi: 10.1016/j.jacr.2017.01.036.


The youngest children, particularly in the first year of life, are the most vulnerable to physical abuse. Skeletal survey is the universal screening examination in children 24 months of age and younger. Fractures occur in over half of abused children. Rib fractures may be the only abnormality in about 30%. A repeat limited skeletal survey after 2 weeks can detect additional fractures and can provide fracture dating information. The type and extent of additional imaging for pediatric patients being evaluated for suspected physical abuse depends on the age of the child, the presence of neurologic signs and symptoms, evidence of thoracic or abdominopelvic injuries, and social considerations. Unenhanced CT of the head is the initial study for suspected intracranial injury. Clinically occult abusive head trauma can occur, especially in young infants. Therefore, head CT should be performed in selected neurologically asymptomatic physical abuse patients. Contrast-enhanced CT of the abdomen/pelvis is utilized for suspected intra-abdominal or pelvic injury. Particular attention should be paid to discrepancies between the patterns of injury and the reported clinical history. Making the diagnosis of child abuse also requires differentiation from anatomical and developmental variants and possible underlying metabolic and genetic conditions. The American College of Radiology Appropriateness Criteria are evidence-based guidelines for specific clinical conditions that are reviewed annually by a multidisciplinary expert panel. The guideline development and revision include an extensive analysis of current medical literature from peer-reviewed journals and the application of well-established methodologies (RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method and Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation or GRADE) to rate the appropriateness of imaging and treatment procedures for specific clinical scenarios. In those instances where evidence is lacking or equivocal, expert opinion may supplement the available evidence to recommend imaging or treatment.

Keywords: AUC; Appropriate Use Criteria; Appropriateness Criteria; CT; MRI; child abuse; nonaccidental trauma; pediatric; shaken baby; skeletal survey.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child Abuse / diagnosis*
  • Contrast Media
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Fractures, Bone / diagnostic imaging*
  • Fractures, Bone / etiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Radiology
  • Rib Fractures / diagnostic imaging
  • Rib Fractures / etiology
  • Societies, Medical
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods
  • United States


  • Contrast Media