Purpose: To compare the magnetic resonance (MR) imaging findings in patients with acute whiplash injury with those in matched control subjects.
Materials and Methods: In a prospective multicenter controlled study, from 2005 to 2008, 100 consecutive patients underwent 1.5-T MR imaging examinations of the cervical spine within 48 hours after a motor vehicle accident. Findings in these patients were compared in a blinded fashion with those in 100 age- and sex-matched healthy control subjects. Four blinded independent readers assessed the presence of occult vertebral body and facet fractures, vertebral body and facet contusions, intervertebral disk herniations, ligamentum nuchae strains, ligamentum nuchae tears, muscle strains or tears, and perimuscular fluid. Accuracy (as compared with clinical findings) and interobserver reliability were calculated.
Results: Accuracy of MR imaging and interreader reliability were generally poor (sensitivity, 0.328; specificity, 0.728; positive and negative likelihood ratios, 1.283 and 1.084, respectively). MR imaging findings significantly associated with whiplash injuries were occult fracture (P < .01), bone marrow contusion of the vertebral body (P = .01), muscle strain (P < .01) or tear (P < .01), and the presence of perimuscular fluid (P < .01). While 10 findings thought to be specific for whiplash trauma were significantly (P < .01) more frequent in patients (507 observations), they were also regularly found in healthy control subjects (237 observations). There were no serious occult injuries that required immediate therapy.
Conclusion: MR imaging at 1.5 T reveals only limited evidence of specific changes to the cervical spine and the surrounding tissues in patients with acute symptomatic whiplash injury compared with healthy control subjects.