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Advances in imaging of vertebral and spinal cord injury.

BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVES: Imaging technology is an important part of the diagnosis and management of spinal trauma. Indications and findings in post-traumatic imaging of the vertebral column and spinal cord are reviewed.

METHODS: An extensive literature review was performed on the imaging of vertebral and spinal cord injury. Relevant images from a Level I trauma center were included as examples.

RESULTS: Imaging plays an important role in the evaluation of acute and chronic spinal injury. Spinal cord and soft-tissue injuries are best evaluated by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), whereas spinal fractures are better characterized by computed tomography (CT). Vascular injuries can be evaluated using CT or MR angiography.

CONCLUSIONS: Imaging using CT and MRI is essential in the management of spinal cord injuries, both in the acute and in the chronic settings. MRI shows the status of ligamentous integrity and visualizes internal derangement of the spinal cord. Vascular compromise can be diagnosed by MR and CT angiography. Plain radiography now has a more limited, adjunctive role, and the need for higher risk myelography has been minimized.

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