The impact of routine whole spine MRI screening in the evaluation of spinal degenerative diseases



Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the spine is a sensitive investigation, which not only provides detailed images of the spinal column but also adjacent spinal regions and para-vertebral organ systems. Such incidental findings (IF) can be asymptomatic but significant. The efficacy of whole spine T2 sagittal screening in providing additional information has been demonstrated in several spinal diseases but its routine use in patients with spinal degenerative diseases has not been studied.


A review of 1486 consecutive T2w whole spine screening MRI performed for cervical, thoracic or lumbar spinal imaging for degenerative diseases, was performed to document the incidence and significance of asymptomatic IF in the spinal and extra-spinal regions.


236 (15.88%) patients had IF with a M:F ratio of 102:134 and the mean age being 50.3 years. Of these, spinal IF was observed in 122 (51.7%—Group A) while extra-spinal IF was present in 114 (48.3%—Group B). In Group A, 84 patients had IF in the vertebral column and 38 patients had IF in the spinal cord. IF within the spine included vertebral haemangioma (n = 60, 4.5%), diffuse vertebral marrow changes (n = 18, 1.2%), vertebral metastasis (n = 2), incidental cord myelopathy (n = 21), intradural tumour (n = 7), and others. 33 patients required surgical intervention of the IF (2.2%). In Group B, pelvic IF were most prevalent (n = 79, 5.3%) followed by retro-peritoneal abdominal IF in 22 (1.48%) and intra-cranial IF in 9 (0.60%). 32 (2.1%) of these pathologies required further specialist medical or surgical evaluation.


Routine T2 whole spine screening MRI identified 15.8% IF of the spinal and extra-spinal regions. 65 patients (4.3%) required either spine surgical intervention or other specialist care. Considering the potential advantages in identifying significant IF and the minimal extra time spent to perform whole spine screening, its application can be considered to be incorporated in routine imaging of spinal degenerative diseases.

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Correspondence to S. Rajasekaran.

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Kanna, R.M., Kamal, Y., Mahesh, A. et al. The impact of routine whole spine MRI screening in the evaluation of spinal degenerative diseases. Eur Spine J 26, 1993–1998 (2017).

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  • Whole spine
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Screening
  • Incidental findings