Using magnetic resonance imaging to accurately assess injury to the posterior ligamentous complex of the spine: A prospective comparison of the surgeon and radiologist

Jeffrey A. Rihn, Nuo Yang, Charles Fisher, Davor Saravanja, Harvey Smith, William B. Morrison, James Harrop, Alexander R. Vaccaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


Object. Magnetic resonance imaging has been proposed as a powerful technique for assessing the integrity of the posterior ligamentous complex (PLC) in spinal trauma. Because MR imaging is often used to determine appropriate treatment, it is important to determine the accuracy and reliability of MR imaging in diagnosing PLC disruption. The purpose of this study is to compare the ability of the radiologist and surgeon to assess disruption of the PLC in the setting of acute cervical and thoracolumbar trauma using MR imaging. Methods. The components of the PLC in 89 consecutive patients with cervical or thoracolumbar fractures following acute spinal trauma were evaluated using MR imaging by both a musculoskeletal radiologist and an independent spine surgeon and assessed intraoperatively under direct visualization by the treating surgeon. The MR imaging interpretations of the musculoskeletal radiologist and surgeon were compared with the intraoperative report for accuracy, sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values. A comparison between the radiologist's and spine surgeon's accuracy of MR imaging interpretation was performed. Results. The agreement between both the spine surgeon's and radiologist's MR imaging interpretation and the actual intraoperative findings was moderate for most components of the PLC. Overall, the MR imaging interpretation of the surgeon was more accurate than that of the radiologist. The interpretation of MR imaging by the surgeon had negative predictive value and sensitivity of up to 100%. However, the specificity of MR imaging for both the surgeon and radiologist was lower, ranging from 51.5 to 80.5%. Conclusions. Comparison of the MR imaging interpretations between surgeon and radiologist indicates that the surgeon was more accurate for some PLC components. The relatively low positive predictive value and specificity for MR imaging in assessing PLC integrity suggests that both the surgeon and radiologist tend to overdiagnose PLC injury using MR imaging. This can lead to unnecessary surgeries if only MR imaging is used for treatment decision making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-396
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Neurosurgery: Spine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Cervical
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Posterior ligamentous complex
  • Spinal trauma
  • Thoracolumbar

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Using magnetic resonance imaging to accurately assess injury to the posterior ligamentous complex of the spine: A prospective comparison of the surgeon and radiologist'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this