Absence of clinical findings reliably excludes unstable cervical spine injuries in children 5 years or younger

Diane F. Hale, Colleen M. Fitzpatrick, John J. Doski, Ronald M. Stewart, Deborah L. Mueller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND Increased accessibility and rapidity of computed tomography (CT) have led to increased use and radiation exposure to pediatric trauma patients. The thyroid is radiosensitive and therefore at risk for developing malignancy from radiation exposure during cervical spine CT. This analysis aimed to determine which preelementary trauma patients warrant cervical spine CT by defining incidence and clinical characteristics of preelementary cervical spine injury. METHODS This was a retrospective review of pre-elementary trauma patients from 1998 to 2010 with cervical spine injury admitted to a Level I trauma center. Patients were identified from the trauma registry using DRG International Classification of Diseases - 9th Rev. codes and reviewed for demographics, mechanism of injury, clinical presentation, injury location, injury type, treatment, and outcome. RESULTS A total of 2,972 preelementary trauma patients were identified. Twenty-two (0.74%) had confirmed cervical spine injuries. Eleven (50%) were boys, and the mean (SD) age was 3 (1.7) years. The most common mechanism of injury was motor vehicle collision (n = 16, 73%). The majority (59%) were in extremis, and 12 (55%) arrived intubated. The median Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score was 3 (interquartile range, 3-10); the median Injury Severity Score (ISS) was 33 (interquartile range, 17-56). Nineteen injuries (76%) were at the level of C4 level and higher. The mortality rate was 50%. All patients had clinical findings suggestive of or diagnostic for cervical spine injury; 18 (82%) had abnormal neurologic examination result, 2 (9%) had torticollis, and 2 (9%) had neck pain. CONCLUSION The incidence of cervical spine injury in preelementary patients was consistent with previous reports. Missing a cervical spine injury in asymptomatic preelementary patients is extremely low. Reserving cervical spine CT to symptomatic preelementary patients would decrease unnecessary radiation exposure to the thyroid. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE Therapeutic study, level IV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)943-948
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 7 2015


  • Cervical spine injury
  • Pediatric cervical spine
  • Pediatric trauma
  • Radiation exposure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Surgery


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