Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Craniovertebral Junction Ligaments: Normal Anatomy and Traumatic Injury

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The superb stability and flexibility of the craniovertebral junction (CVJ) are enabled by the ligaments that connect the occipital bone and the C1 and C2 vertebral bodies. Radiographically, these ligaments are best assessed with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which has excellent soft tissue contrast, but typically poor spatial resolution. With the advent of advanced MRI techniques, including volumetric sequences, high spatial resolution and contrast resolution can both be attained, allowing for detailed analysis of the ligaments, particularly in trauma settings. We have instituted a cervical spine trauma protocol which utilizes a high resolution (1-mm voxel) volumetric proton density sequence to detect injuries to the ligaments of the CVJ in all trauma patients who receive a cervical spine MRI in our emergency room. In this article, we review techniques for imaging the ligaments at the CVJ, the normal imaging anatomy and the function of the CVJ ligaments, and their appearance in cases of traumatic injury.

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