Key messages

• The most significant recent development in CT scanning has been volumetric data acquisition in times compatible with a single breath hold.

• Although logistically more difficult than CT in the critically ill patient, magnetic resonance imaging is generally preferred because it is more accurate and avoids the high X-ray dose delivered by CT.

• Cranial CT is preferred as the first and only examination in head injury.

• Plain radiography of the cervical spine is indicated only in the unconscious or non-assessable patient, or when there is clinical evidence of neck injury.

• Magnetic resonance imaging may demonstrate potentially treatable causes of traumatic cord compression and is of value in predicting recovery.

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