Spinal ligamentous injury in abusive head trauma: a pictorial review

Pediatr Radiol. 2021 May;51(6):971-979. doi: 10.1007/s00247-020-04922-8. Epub 2021 May 17.


There is growing evidence of spine injury in abusive head trauma (AHT). Historically, spine injury was considered rare in AHT because of a lack of attributable clinical symptoms or signs and a lack of advanced imaging. Increased use of MRI in AHT has been instrumental in helping identify evidence of ligamentous injuries of the spine. These findings can be difficult to identify on autopsy because of the size and location of the ligaments. Because spinal injury in AHT mostly involves ligamentous and soft tissues and only rarely involves bony fractures, more than 90% of the injury findings are missed on CT or radiography of the spine. Investigation of these findings and the injury patterns should lead to a better understanding of the mechanism of spinal injury. In this pictorial review, we describe the various manifestations of spinal ligamentous injury in AHT, as seen on MRI, in children younger than 48 months.

Keywords: Abusive head trauma; Child; Infant; Magnetic resonance imaging; Nuchal ligament; Radiology; Spinal ligament injury; Spine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse* / diagnosis
  • Craniocerebral Trauma* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Ligaments
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Spinal Injuries* / diagnostic imaging
  • Spine