Imaging of the Peripheral Nerve: Concepts and Future Direction of Magnetic Resonance Neurography and Ultrasound

Published:October 02, 2019DOI:
      Advanced imaging is increasingly used by upper extremity surgeons in the diagnosis and evaluation of peripheral nerve pathology. Ultrasound and magnetic resonance neurography (MRN) have emerged as the most far-reaching modalities for peripheral nerve imaging and often provide complimentary information. Technology improvements allow better depiction of the peripheral nervous system, allowing for more accurate diagnoses and preoperative planning. The purpose of this review is to provide an overview of current modalities and expected advances in peripheral nerve imaging with a focus on practical applications in the clinical setting. Ultrasound is safe, inexpensive, and readily available, and allows dynamic imaging with high spatial resolution as well as immediate evaluation of the contralateral nerve for comparison. It is primarily limited by its dependency on skilled operators and soft tissue contrast. The spatial evaluation of the perineural environment, fascicular echostructure, and nerve diameter are features of particular use in the diagnosis and treatment of nerve tumors, compressive lesions, and nerve trauma. Sonoelastrography has shown promise as a useful adjunct to standard sonographic imaging. MRN refers to the optimization of magnetic resonance image sequences and technology for visualization and contrasting nerves from surrounding structures. MRN provides excellent soft tissue contrast, depicts the entire nerve in 3 dimensions, allows for early evaluation of downstream muscle injury, and functions without operator dependency limits. Images provide details of nerve anatomic relationships, congruency, size, fascicular pattern, local and intrinsic fluid status, and contrast enhancement patterns, making MRN particularly useful in the setting of trauma, tumor, compressive lesions, and evaluation of brachial plexus injuries. Advances in MR volume and cinematic rendering software, magnet and coil technology, nerve-specific contrast media, and diffusion-weighted and tensor imaging will likely continue to expand the clinical application and indications for MRN.

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