Imaging Review of Normal and Abnormal Skeletal Maturation

Radiographics. 2022 May-Jun;42(3):861-879. doi: 10.1148/rg.210088. Epub 2022 Feb 25.


The growing skeleton undergoes well-described and predictable normal developmental changes, which may be misinterpreted a as pathologic condition at imaging. Primary and secondary ossification centers (SOCs), which form the diaphysis and the epiphysis of long bones, respectively, are formed by endochondral and intramembranous ossification processes. During skeletal maturation, the SOCs may appear irregular and fragmented, which should not be confused with fractures, osteochondritis dissecans, and osteochondrosis. These normal irregularities are generally symmetric with a smooth, round, and sclerotic appearance, which are aspects that help in the differentiation. The metaphysis, epiphysis, and growth plates or physes are common sites of injuries and normal variants in the pediatric skeleton. The metaphysis contains the newly formed bone from endochondral ossification and is highly vascularized. It is predisposed to easy spread of infections and bone tumors. The physis is the weakest structure of the immature skeleton. Injuries to this location may disrupt endochondral ossification and lead to growth disturbances. Pathologic conditions of the epiphyses may extend into the articular surface and lead to articular damage. At MRI, small and localized foci of bone marrow changes within the epiphysis and metaphysis are also a common finding. These can be related to residual red marrow (especially in the metaphysis of long bones and hindfoot), focal periphyseal edema (associated with the process of physeal closure), and ultimately to a normal ossification process. The authors review the imaging appearance of normal skeletal maturation and discuss common maturation disorders on the basis of developmental stage and location. ©RSNA, 2022.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Epiphyses* / diagnostic imaging
  • Epiphyses* / pathology
  • Growth Plate / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Osteochondritis Dissecans* / pathology
  • Osteogenesis