Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has transformed the way surgeons and researchers study and treat spinal cord injury. In this narrative review, we explore the historical context of imaging the human spinal cord and describe how MRI has evolved from providing the first visualization of the human spinal cord in the 1980s to a remarkable set of imaging tools today. The article focuses in particular on the role of Canadian researchers to this field. We begin by outlining the clinical context of traumatic injury to the human spinal cord and describe why current MRI standards fall short when it comes to treating this disabling condition. Parts 2 and 3 of this work explore an exciting and dramatic shift in the use of MRI technology to aid in our understanding and treatment of traumatic injury to the spinal cord. We explore the use of functional imaging (part 2) and structural imaging (part 3) and explore how these techniques have evolved, how they are used, and the challenges that we face for continued refinement and application to patients who live with the neurological and functional deficits caused by injury to the delicate spinal cord.
Keywords: MRI; degenerative cervical myelopathy; functional MRI; quantitative MRI; spinal cord injury.