Malformed vertebrae: a clinical and imaging review

Insights Imaging. 2018 Jun;9(3):343-355. doi: 10.1007/s13244-018-0598-1. Epub 2018 Apr 3.


A variety of structural developmental anomalies affect the vertebral column. Malformed vertebrae can arise secondary to errors of vertebral formation, fusion and/or segmentation and developmental variation. Malformations can be simple with little or no clinical consequence, or complex with serious structural and neurologic implications. These anomalies can occasionally mimic acute trauma (bipartite atlas versus Jefferson fracture, butterfly vertebra versus burst fracture), or predispose the affected individual to myelopathy. Accurate imaging interpretation of vertebral malformations requires knowledge of ageappropriate normal, variant and abnormal vertebral morphology and the clinical implications of each entity. This knowledge will improve diagnostic confidence in acute situations and confounding clinical scenarios.This review article seeks to familiarize the reader with the embryology, normal and variant anatomy of the vertebral column and the imaging appearance and clinical impact of the spectrum of vertebral malformations arising as a consequence of disordered embryological development.Teaching points • Some vertebral malformations predispose the affected individual to trauma or myelopathy. • On imaging, malformed vertebrae can be indistinguishable from acute trauma. • Abnormalities in spinal cord development may be associated and must be searched for. • Accurate interpretation requires knowledge of normal, variant and abnormal vertebral morphology.

Keywords: Children; Developmental; Magnetic resonance imaging; Spine; Vertebral malformations.

Publication types

  • Review