Cervical spine injuries in older patients with falls found on magnetic resonance imaging after computed tomography

Corinne H. Cushing, James F Holmes Jr, Katren R. Tyler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: In this study we aimed to determine the rate of traumatic abnormalities on cervical spine magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) after a normal cervical spine computed tomography (CT) in older patients with ground-level falls. We hypothesized that MRI is low yield following a normal physical examination and normal CT after a ground-level fall. Methods: This was a retrospective cohort study of patients 65 years and older evaluated with a cervical spine MRI following a ground-level fall. Inclusion criteria included age 65 years and older, ground-level fall, normal cervical spine CT followed by a cervical spine MRI. We abstracted data following accepted methodologic guidelines. Patients with any focal neurological finding were considered to have an abnormal neurological examination. Imaging studies were considered to be abnormal if there was a report of an acute traumatic injury. The primary outcome was a traumatic abnormality identified on MRI. We described data with simple descriptive statistics. Results: Eighty-seven patients with a median age of 74 (interquartile range [IQR] 69, 83]) years had an MRI following a normal cervical spine CT. Median emergency department length of stay was 8.2 hours (IQR 5.3, 13.5). Sixty-four (73.6%) patients had a normal neurological examination on arrival; eight of these patients (12.5% (95% confidence interval [CI], 5.6-23.2%) had an abnormal cervical spine MRI. Twenty-three patients (26.4%) had an abnormal neurological examination on arrival; two of these patients (8.7%, 95% CI, 1.1-28%) had an abnormal cervical spine MRI. Overall, 10 patients (11.5%) had an abnormal cervical spine MRI. One patient underwent operative intervention due to an unstable injury. Of the remaining nine patients with acute findings on cervical spine MRI, there were no other unstable injuries; two patients were managed with cervical orthosis, and seven patients had no additional management. Conclusion: In this study of older patients with ground-level falls and normal, atraumatic, cervical spine CT, a small portion had traumatic abnormalities on MRI, with few requiring further intervention. Further study is required to identify criteria to determine when MRI should be performed in older patients after a ground-level fall.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1190-1195
Number of pages6
JournalWestern Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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