Magnetic resonance imaging findings of fatty infiltrate in the cervical flexors in chronic whiplash

James M. Elliott, Shaun O'Leary, Michele Sterling, Joan Hendrikz, Ashley Pedler, Gwen Jull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


Study Design: Retrospective investigation of muscle changes in patients suffering from chronic whiplash-associated disorders (WAD). ObjectiveS: To quantitatively compare the presence of muscle alterations (fatty infiltrate [MFI] and cross-sectional area [CSA]) in the anterior musculature of the cervical spine in a cohort of chronic whiplash patients (WAD II) and healthy control subjects across muscle and cervical segmental level. Summary of Background Data: Magnetic resonance imaging can be regarded as the gold standard for muscle imaging. There is little knowledge about in vivo features of anterior neck muscles in patients suffering from chronic WAD and how muscle structure differs across the factors of muscle, vertebral level, age, self-reported pain and disability, body mass index, and duration of symptoms. Methods: Reliable magnetic resonance imaging measures for MFI and CSA were performed for the anterior cervical muscles bilaterally in 109 female subjects (78 WAD, 31 healthy control; 18-45 years, 3 months to 3 years postinjury). The measures were performed on all subjects for the longus capitis and colli and the sternocleidomastoid muscles. Results: The WAD subjects had significantly larger MFI and CSA for the anterior muscles compared to healthy control subjects (all P < 0.0001). In addition, the amount of MFI varied by both cervical level and muscle, with the longus capitis/colli having the largest amount of fatty infiltrates at the C2-C3 level (P < 0.0001). MFI was inversely related to age, self-reported pain/disability, and body mass index but directly proportional to duration of symptoms. Conclusion: There is significantly greater MFI and CSA in the anterior neck muscles, especially in the deeper longus capitis/colli muscles, in subjects with chronic WAD when compared to healthy controls. Future studies are required to investigate the relationships between muscular morphometry and symptoms in patients suffering from acute and chronic WAD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)948-954
Number of pages7
Issue number9
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Cervical
  • Fat
  • MRI
  • Muscle
  • Whiplash

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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