Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging of acute spinal injury provides excellent visualization of neurologic and soft-tissue structures in a noninvasive format. Advances in imaging-sequence techniques have made possible more rapid acquisition of images with greater spatial resolution. Appropriate selection of imaging sequences allows improved imaging and contrast of the pathologic processes involved in acute spinal trauma, including spinal cord, soft-tissue, and ligamentous injury. Three patterns of spinal cord injury have been identified. Type I is representative of acute cord hemorrhage. Type II represents spinal cord edema. Type III is a mixed hemorrhagic-edematous presentation. Correlation of MR findings with experimental and clinical spinal cord injury has given a relative predictive value to spinal cord injury patterns on MR images indicative of long-term neurologic outcome. Magnetic resonance imaging is useful in delineating soft-tissue injuries associated with spinal column trauma. Despite the improved spatial resolution of MR imaging, plain radiography and computed tomography remain the standard modalities for visualizing spinal fractures.