Magnetic Resonance Imaging study of cross-sectional area of the cervical extensor musculature in an asymptomatic cohort

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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can be regarded as the gold standard for muscle imaging; however there is little knowledge about in vivo morphometric features of neck extensor muscles in healthy subjects and how muscle size alters across vertebral segments. It is not known how body size and activity levels may influence neck muscle cross-sectional area (CSA) or if the muscles differ from left and right. The purpose of this study was to establish relative CSA (rCSA) data for the cervical extensor musculature with a reliable MRI measure in asymptomatic females within a defined age range and to determine if side-side and vertebral level differences exist. MRI of the cervical spine was performed on 42 asymptomatic female subjects within the age range of 18-45. The rCSA values for the cervical extensor muscles were measured from axial T1-weighted images. We found significant side-side rCSA differences for the rectus capitis posterior minor, major (P < 0.001), multifidus (P = 0.002), and the semispinalis cervicis/capitis (P = 0.001, P < 0.001). There were significant vertebral level differences in rCSA of the semispinalis cervicis/capitis, multifidus, splenius capitis, and upper trapezius (P < 0.001). Activity levels were shown to impact on the size of semispinalis cervicis (P = 0.027), semispinalis capitis (P = 0.003), and the splenius capitis (P = 0.004). In conclusion, measuring differences in neck extensor muscle rCSA with MRI in an asymptomatic population provides the basis for future study investigating relationships between muscular atrophy and symptoms in patients suffering from persistent neck pain. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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