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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Cross-sectional study.


Findings of fat infiltration in cervical spine multifidus, as a sign of degenerative morphometric changes due to whiplash injury, need to be verified.


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.


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.


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.


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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