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Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2009 Dec 1;34(25):2754-9. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e3181b6170b.

Traumatic cervical discoligamentous injuries: correlation of magnetic resonance imaging and operative findings.

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Department of Neurosurgery, The Alfred Hospital, Department of Surgery, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.



Retrospective review using prospectively collected data.


The purpose of the study was to investigate the diagnostic properties of cervical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in detecting surgically verified disruptions of the anterior longitudinal ligament (ALL), intervertebral disc, and posterior longitudinal ligament (PLL).


Cervical MRI findings commonly provide the basis for the decision to stabilize cervical injury operatively. The correlation of cervical MRI findings with direct visualization of the cervical discoligamentous structures during operative management is a subject of debate.


The cervical spine MRI scans of patients who subsequently underwent anterior surgical stabilization after traumatic discoligamentous injury of the cervical spine were reviewed. The level and severity of ALL, disc and PLL disruption was compared with surgical findings. The sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values of MRI in the detection of surgically verified injuries were calculated.


The MRI and surgical findings were compared on 31 consecutive patients, with the kappa values for ALL, intervertebral disc, and PLL disruption measuring 0.22, 0.25, and 0.31, respectively. MRI scans provided reasonable sensitivity to disc disruption (0.81) but poor sensitivity to ALL (0.48) and PLL (0.50) injury. Specificity for ALL and PLL disruption was 1.00 and 0.87, respectively, but 0.00 for disc disruption. The positive predictive value of MRI for ALL and intervertebral disc injury was 1.00 and 0.96, respectively, but 0.63 for PLL disruption. The false-negative rates for disruption of the ALL, disc and PLL were 0.52, 0.19, and 0.50, respectively.


The ability of cervical MRI to detect surgically verified disruptions of the ALL, intervertebral disc, and PLL varied depending on the structure examined. MRI was sensitive but not specific for disc injury, and specific but not sensitive to ALL and PLL disruption. In this series, the comparison of cervical MRI and operative findings indicated that MRI was reliable only when positive for ALL and disc injury, and a reasonably reliable indicator of PLL status only when negative for PLL injury. Additionally, the high false-negative rates for ALL and PLL injury are concerning.

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