European Radiology

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 582–590 | Cite as

Imaging in spinal trauma

  • Johan W. M. Van Goethem
  • Menno Maes
  • Özkan Özsarlak
  • Luc van den Hauwe
  • Paul M. Parizel


Because it may cause paralysis, injury to the spine is one of the most feared traumas, and spinal cord injury is a major cause of disability. In the USA approximately 10,000 traumatic cervical spine fractures and 4000 traumatic thoracolumbar fractures are diagnosed each year. Although the number of individuals sustaining paralysis is far less than those with moderate or severe brain injury, the socioeconomic costs are significant. Since most of the spinal trauma patients survive their injuries, almost one out of 1000 inhabitants in the USA are currently being cared for partial or complete paralysis. Little controversy exists regarding the need for accurate and emergent imaging assessment of the traumatized spine in order to evaluate spinal stability and integrity of neural elements. Because clinicians fear missing occult spine injuries, they obtain radiographs for nearly all patients who present with blunt trauma. We are influenced on one side by fear of litigation and the possible devastating medical, psychologic and financial consequences of cervical spine injury, and on the other side by pressure to reduce health care costs. A set of clinical and/or anamnestic criteria, however, can be very useful in identifying patients who have an extremely low probability of injury and who consequently have no need for imaging studies. Multidetector (or multislice) computed tomography (MDCT) is the preferred primary imaging modality in blunt spinal trauma patients who do need imaging. Not only is CT more accurate in diagnosing spinal injury, it also reduces imaging time and patient manipulation. Evidence-based research has established that MDCT improves patient outcome and saves money in comparison to plain film. This review discusses the use, advantages and disadvantages of the different imaging techniques used in spinal trauma patients and the criteria used in selecting patients who do not need imaging. Finally an overview of different types of spinal injuries is given.


Spine, trauma Spine, fractures Spine, injuries Spine, MR Spine, CT 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Johan W. M. Van Goethem
    • 1
    • 2
  • Menno Maes
    • 1
  • Özkan Özsarlak
    • 1
  • Luc van den Hauwe
    • 1
  • Paul M. Parizel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of RadiologyUniversitair Ziekenhuis Antwerpen, University of Antwerp, BelgiumEdegemBelgium
  2. 2.Department of RadiologyAlgemeen Ziekenhuis Maria MiddelaresSint-NiklaasBelgium

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