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Handb Clin Neurol. 2016;136:747-67. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53486-6.00037-5.

Imaging of trauma of the spine.

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Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Radiology, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


The goal of imaging in spine trauma is to gauge the extent of bony, vascular, and neurologic compromise. Neurologic and mechanical stability are key pieces of information that must be efficiently communicated to the referring clinician. From immobilization and steroid therapy, to vascular repair and emergent surgical intervention, clinical outcomes of spine-injured patients depend on timely and well-chosen imaging studies. Multidetector computed tomography (CT) has essentially replaced radiography in clearance of the spine and is the gold standard in evaluation of the bony spinal column. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is typically reserved for patients with neurologic deficits or for obtunded/impaired patients in whom the neurologic exam is not reliable, even in the absence of osseous injury on CT. MRI is the only available imaging modality that is able to clearly depict the internal architecture of the spinal cord, and, as such, has a central role in depicting parenchymal changes resulting from injury. Intramedullary edema and hemorrhage have been shown to correlate with the degree of neurologic deficit and prognosis. Moreover, advanced MRI techniques, such as diffusion and diffusion tensor imaging, have shifted the focus to determining structural and functional integrity of neural structures. Here, we review the role of imaging in spine trauma, as well as the key radiologic features of injury to the spinal column and spinal cord.


CT; MRI; edema; hemorrhage; spinal cord injury; spine

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