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Cervical spine MRI in patients with negative CT: A prospective, multicenter study of the Research Consortium of New England Centers for Trauma (ReCONECT)

Maung, Adrian A. MD; Johnson, Dirk C. MD; Barre, Kimberly RN; Peponis, Thomas MD; Mesar, Tomaz MD; Velmahos, George C. MD, PhD; McGrail, Daniel MD; Kasotakis, George MD; Gross, Ronald I MD; Rosenblatt, Michael S. MD, MBA, MPH; Sihler, Kristen C. MD; Winchell, Robert J. MD; Cholewczynski, Walter MD; Butler, Kathryn L. MD; Odom, Stephen R. MD; Davis, Kimberly A. MD, MBAfor the ReCONECT MRI C-SPINE Study Group

Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery: February 2017 - Volume 82 - Issue 2 - p 263–269
doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000001322
AAST 2016 Plenary Papers

BACKGROUND Although cervical spine CT (CSCT) accurately detects bony injuries, it may not identify all soft tissue injuries. Although some clinicians rely exclusively on a negative CT to remove spine precautions in unevaluable patients or patients with cervicalgia, others use MRI for that purpose. The objective of this study was to determine the rates of abnormal MRI after a negative CSCT.

METHODS Blunt trauma patients who either were unevaluable or had persistent midline cervicalgia and underwent an MRI of the C-spine after a negative CSCT were enrolled prospectively in eight Level I and II New England trauma centers. Demographics, injury patterns, CT and MRI results, and any changes in cervical spine management as a result of MRI imaging were recorded.

RESULTS A total of 767 patients had MRI because of cervicalgia (43.0%), inability to evaluate (44.1%), or both (9.4%). MRI was abnormal in 23.6% of all patients, including ligamentous injury (16.6%), soft tissue swelling (4.3%), vertebral disc injury (1.4%), and dural hematomas (1.3%). Rates of abnormal neurological signs or symptoms were not different among patients with normal versus abnormal MRI. (15.2 vs. 18.8%, p = 0.25). The c-collar was removed in 88.1% of patients with normal MRI and 13.3% of patients with an abnormal MRI. No patient required halo placement, but 11 patients underwent cervical spine surgery after the MRI results. Six of the eleven had neurological signs or symptoms.

CONCLUSIONS In a select population of patients, MRI identified additional injuries in 23.6% of patients despite a normal CSCT. It is uncertain if this is a true limitation of CT technology or represents subtle injuries missed in the interpretation of the scan. The clinical significance of these abnormal MRI findings cannot be determined from this study group.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE Therapeutic study, level IV.

From the Yale School of Medicine (A.A.M., D.C.J., K.B., K.A.D.), New Haven, Connecticut; Massachusetts General Hospital (T.P., T.M., G.C.V., K.L.B.), Boston, Massachusetts; Boston Medical Center (D.M., G.K.), Boston, Massachusetts; Baystate Medical Center (R.I.G.), Springfield, Massachusetts; Lahey Hospital and Medical Center (M.S.R.), Burlington, Massachusetts; Maine Medical Center (K.C.S., R.J.W.), Portland, Maine; Bridgeport Hospital (W.C.), Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (S.R.O.), Boston, Massachusetts.

Submitted: July 29, 2016, Revised: October 13, 2016, Accepted: October 19, 2016, Published online: November 23, 2016.

This study was presented at the 75th annual meeting of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, September 14–17, 2016, in Waikaloa, Hawaii.

Address for reprints: Adrian Anthony Maung, MD, FACS, FCCM, Department of Surgery, Section of General Surgery, Trauma & Surgical Critical Care, Yale School of Medicine, 330 Cedar Street BB310, New Haven, CT 06520; email:

© 2017 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.