The role of bone scintigraphy in detecting child abuse

Semin Nucl Med. 1993 Oct;23(4):321-33. doi: 10.1016/s0001-2998(05)80111-4.


This review of diagnostic imaging in cases of suspected child abuse characterizes the significant differences between bone scintigraphy and x-ray evaluation, describes the advantages and disadvantages of each modality, postulates on the specific mechanisms of injury that produce the characteristic scintigraphic findings, and emphasizes the influences that scintigraphic studies have on the medical, social, and legal aspects of child abuse. The major advantages of bone scintigraphy are its increased sensitivity (25% to 50%) in detecting evidence of soft tissue as well as bone trauma in child abuse. Furthermore, it is postulated that the specific mechanisms of inflicting the trauma relate to the patient's size and are characterized by bone scintigraphy. During fits of anger or frustration, the perpetrator of child abuse grasps the small infant or child by the thorax during the shaking activity. This produces characteristic rib injuries. The older and heavier child is more likely to be grabbed by the extremities, which produces periosteal injuries manifested as characteristic abnormal localizations in the diaphyses of the extremities. The roentgenograms of these injuries are frequently normal. The importance of bone scintigraphy is its complementary nature in defining and characterizing the extent and severity of trauma from child abuse. Such findings have direct bearing on the medical, social, and legal outcomes for the abused child. The quality of scintigraphic imaging is important, requiring the use of magnification techniques in the infant. The interpretation of the scintigraphic images depends on an understanding of the mechanisms by which the radionuclide localizes in bone. The same traumatic incident can lead to decreased, normal, or increased localization at the trauma site. Radionuclide scintigraphy is a complementary rather than competitive imaging modality to X-ray evaluation in the diagnosis and management of physical child abuse.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone and Bones / diagnostic imaging
  • Bone and Bones / injuries*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / diagnosis*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Radiography
  • Rib Fractures / diagnostic imaging
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon