Confirming the geography of fatty infiltration in the deep cervical extensor muscles in whiplash recovery

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Previous preliminary work mapped the distribution of neck muscle fat infiltration (MFI) in the deep cervical extensor muscles (multifidus and semispinalis cervicis) in a small cohort of participants with chronic whiplash associated disorders (WAD), recovered, and healthy controls. While MFI was reported to be concentrated in the medial portion of the muscles in all participants, the magnitude was significantly greater in those with chronic WAD. This study aims to confirm these results in a prospective fashion with a larger cohort and compare the findings across a population of patients with varying levels of WAD-related disability one-year following the motor vehicle collision. Sixty-one participants enrolled in a longitudinal study: Recovered (n = 25), Mild (n = 26) and Severe WAD (n = 10) were studied using Fat/Water magnetic resonance imaging, 12-months post injury. Bilateral measures of MFI in four quartiles (Q1–Q4; medial to lateral) at cervical levels C4 through C7 were included. A linear mixed model was performed, controlling for covariates (age, sex, body mass index), examining interaction effects, and comparing MFI distribution between groups. The recovered group had significantly less MFI in Q1 compared to the two symptomatic groups. Group differences were not found in the more lateral quartiles. Results at 12 months are consistent with the preliminary study, indicating that MFI is spatially concentrated in the medial portions of the deep cervical extensors regardless of WAD recovery, but the magnitude of MFI in the medial portions of the muscles is significantly larger in those with severe chronic WAD.

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