The pearls and pitfalls of magnetic resonance imaging for the spine

James Matthew Elliott*, Timothy Flynn, Aiman Al-Najjar, Joel M Press, Bao Nguyen, Jon Timothy Noteboom

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Musculoskeletal imaging of the spine can be an invaluable tool to inform clinical decision making in patients with spinal pain. An understanding of the technology involved in producing and interpreting high-resolution images produced from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the human spine is necessary to better appreciate which sequences can be used for, or tailored to, individual patients and their conditions. However, there is substantial variability in the clinical meaningfulness of some MRI findings of spinal tissues. For example, normal variants can often mimic significant musculoskeletal pathology, which could increase the risk of misinformed clinical decisions and, even worse, poor or adverse outcomes. This clinical commentary will highlight some of the pearls and pitfalls of MRI for the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar regions, and include cases to illustrate some of the common imaging artifacts and normal variants for MRI of the spine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)848-860
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • MRI
  • Medical imaging
  • Radiology
  • Spinal pain
  • Whiplash

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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