The aim of this study was to review a Level 1 trauma center's use of early (<72 hours from injury) limited MRI to "clear" cervical spine extradural soft tissue injuries in ICU patients sustaining blunt trauma. A retrospective review of the records of patients meeting entry criteria during 1997 was performed. Demographic data, cervical spine radiographic and imaging evaluation, results, and follow-up information were gathered. One hundred and fifty patients met criteria. Forty-one patients had initial static radiographs that revealed cervical spine trauma. Twenty-seven of the 108 patients with normal initial static radiographs had evidence of extradural soft tissue injury on MRI indicating potential spinal column instability. Twenty-one of the 108 patients had negative MRI and were liberated from cervical spine precautions at a mean of 2.9 ± 0.9 days from injury. The remaining patients were cleared of cervical spine precautions by plain radiographs and reliable clinical examinations, or by dynamic radiographs, or they died before complete evaluation. The diagnosis of acute injury to the cervical spine from blunt trauma in ICU patients must include evaluation of the osseous spine and extradural soft tissues. Dynamic studies such as flexion and extension views place the obtunded ICU patient at risk of potential neurologic injury. MRI is a noninvasive imaging technique that allows evaluation of extradural soft tissue injury with potentially less patient risk and with fewer personnel. MRI allows early liberation of cervical spine precautions in those patients with negative studies. Further studies are needed to compare specific ligamentous injury patterns by MRI with dynamic studies of the C-spine to further define MRI injury patterns indicating risk of acute spinal instability.
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