An Investigation of Fat Infiltration of the Multifidus Muscle in Patients With Severe Neck Symptoms Associated With Chronic Whiplash-Associated Disorder

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STUDY DESIGN:Cross-sectional study.BACKGROUND:Findings of fat infiltration in cervical spine multifidus, as a sign of degenerative morphometric changes due to whiplash injury, need to be verified.OBJECTIVES:To develop a method using water/fat magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to investigate fat infiltration and cross-sectional area of multifidus muscle in individuals with whiplash-associated disorders (WADs) compared to healthy controls.METHODS:Fat infiltration and cross-sectional area in the multifidus muscles spanning the C4 to C7 segmental levels were investigated by manual segmentation using water/fat-separated MRI in 31 participants with WAD and 31 controls, matched for age and sex.RESULTS:Based on average values for data spanning C4 to C7, participants with severe disability related to WAD had 38% greater muscular fat infiltration compared to healthy controls (P = .03) and 45% greater fat infiltration compared to those with mild to moderate disability related to WAD (P = .02). There were no significant differences between those with mild to moderate disability and healthy controls. No significant differences between groups were found for multifidus cross-sectional area. Significant differences were observed for both cross-sectional area and fat infiltration between segmental levels.CONCLUSION:Participants with severe disability after a whiplash injury had higher fat infiltration in the multifidus compared to controls and to those with mild/moderate disability secondary to WAD. Earlier reported findings using T1-weighted MRI were reproduced using refined imaging technology. The results of the study also indicate a risk when segmenting single cross-sectional slices, as both cross-sectional area and fat infiltration differ between cervical levels.

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