What Can A Cervical Spine CT Show?

Cervical spine CT is best for showing the bones of the cervical spine.  We can see the junction of the cervical spine and skull.  We can see the lower part of the skull and brain.  We also see a part of the upper thoracic spine. The test is commonly done for trauma and for detecting fractures of the bones.  The test also shows the soft tissues of the cervical spine but not as well as MRI.

What is cervical CT best for?

Cervical CT shows the bones in detail.  We can detect all types of fractures including subtle ones which are not displaced.   We can also see arthritis and age related changes in the spine very well.   This will consist of bony spurring, degeneration of disks, arthritis of the joints of the spine and calcification of the ligaments of the spine.

Cervical Spine CT for soft tissues

Cervical CT can also show us the soft tissues which is everything not including the bones.  We don’t see much detail with regards to the spinal cord.  Diseases of the spinal cord are not well seen.  We can see herniated disks but not as well as on MRI.  We can see the ligaments of the cervical spine but we can’t see much detail.  There are often artifacts which limit evaluation of the soft tissues.

Cervical CT shows bony spurs which impinge on the canal well.  Cervical CT is good at showing narrowing of the spinal canal and the place where the nerves exit called the foramina.  The study is good at showing bony spurs, calcifications and fragments next to the spine.

What are some other findings we can see on Cervical CT?

Incidental findings on cervical CT are those which are silent but may be important.  We get a good look at the thyroid gland and part of the neck on some of the studies.  We can see the bones at the base of the skull.  We can see things like sinusitis and mastoiditis.

We can see part of the brain and lower skull.  The brain can include abnormalities like bleeds in the setting of trauma.  The skull can have a fracture.  We can also see the soft tissues of the scalp.  We can also see lymph nodes.   We can see the very top of the lungs called the apices.


Cervical CT is best for the bones but can show many other abnormalities.  The study is commonly done for fractures and trauma.  It is also done looking for a cause of neck pain, particularly when MRI is not available or the patient can not get the study because of incompatible devices and safety.  Cervical CT is therefore complementary to MRI.  MRI is best for the soft tissues.

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