ACR Appropriateness Criteria® Suspected Spine Infection

Expert Panel on Neurological Imaging:

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Spine infection is both a clinical and diagnostic imaging challenge due to its relatively indolent and nonspecific clinical presentation. The diagnosis of spine infection is based upon a combination of clinical suspicion, imaging evaluation and, when possible, microbiologic confirmation performed from blood cultures or image-guided percutaneous or open spine biopsy. With respect to the imaging evaluation of suspected spine infection, MRI without and with contrast of the affected spine segment is the initial diagnostic test of choice. As noncontrast MRI of the spine is often used in the evaluation of back or neck pain not responding to conservative medical management, it may show findings that are suggestive of infection, hence this procedure may also be considered in the evaluation of suspected spine infection. Nuclear medicine studies, including skeletal scintigraphy, gallium scan, and FDG-PET/CT, may be helpful in equivocal or select cases. Similarly, radiography and CT may be appropriate for assessing overall spinal stability, spine alignment, osseous integrity and, when present, the status of spine instrumentation or spine implants. The American College of Radiology Appropriateness Criteria are evidence-based guidelines for specific clinical conditions that are reviewed annually by a multidisciplinary expert panel. The guideline development and revision include an extensive analysis of current medical literature from peer reviewed journals and the application of well-established methodologies (RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method and Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation or GRADE) to rate the appropriateness of imaging and treatment procedures for specific clinical scenarios. In those instances where evidence is lacking or equivocal, expert opinion may supplement the available evidence to recommend imaging or treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S488-S501
JournalJournal of the American College of Radiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • AUC
  • Appropriate Use Criteria
  • Appropriateness Criteria
  • CT
  • Epidural abscess
  • MRI
  • Nuclear medicine
  • Spine infection
  • Spondylodiscitis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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