In order to evaluate the role of gadolinium-DOTA enhanced MRI in the management of painful osseous crises in children with sickle cell anemia (SCA), nine children with SCA underwent MRI, bone scans and ultrasonographic studies during 11 osseous crises. Imaging findings were compared with the final diagnosis: three acute osteomyelitis (AO) and 16 acute infarcts (AI). MRI could not differentiate AO from AI. The appearance of severe AI was very misleading and was similar to the usual appearance of AO, including soft tissue changes, periosteal reaction and patterns of enhancement. Gadolinium-DOTA enhanced MRI was useful for determining the anatomic site and extent of AO or AI and for distinguishing between necrotic material, fluid collection and vascularized inflammatory tissue. It can also help to guide the aspiration of intraosseous, subperiosteal and soft tissue fluid collections.