Author(s): Brown RL, Brunn MA, Garcia VF
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Abstract PURPOSE: Cervical spine (C-spine) injuries occur infrequently in children but may be associated with significant disability and mortality. The purpose of this study was to review the experience of a level 1 pediatric trauma center to determine the epidemiology, risk factors, mechanisms, levels, types of injury, comorbid factors, and outcomes associated with these potentially devastating injuries. METHODS: A retrospective analysis of 103 consecutive C-spine injuries treated at a level 1 pediatric trauma center over a 9(1/2)-year period (January 1991 through August 2000) was performed. RESULTS: The mean age was 10.3 +/- 5.2 years, and the male-to-female ratio was 1.6:1. The most common mechanism of injury was motor vehicle related (52\%), followed by sporting injuries (27\%). Football injuries accounted for 29\% of all sports-related injuries. Sixty-eight percent of all children sustained injuries to C1 to C4; 25\% to C5 to C7; and 7\% to both. Spinal cord injury without radiographic abnormality (SCIWORA) occurred in 38\%. Five patients had complete cord lesions involving the lower C-spine (C4 to C7); 4 of these were motor vehicle related, and all 4 patients died. Isolated C-spine injuries occurred in 43\%, whereas 38\% had associated closed head injuries (CHI). The overall mortality rate was 18.5\%, most commonly motor vehicle related (95\%), occurring in younger children (mean and median age 5 years) and associated with upper C-spine injuries (74\%) and CHI (89\%). C1 dislocations occurred in younger children (mean age, 6.6 years), most often as a result of motor vehicle-related trauma (especially pedestrians) and were associated with the highest injury severity score (ISS), longest length of stay (LOS), most CHIs, and the highest mortality rate (50\%). C-spine fractures with or without SCI occurred most commonly as a result of falls and dives. Sporting injuries occurred almost exclusively in adolescent boys (mean age, 13.8 years) and were isolated injuries associated with a relatively low ISS and shorter LOS. Interestingly, 75\% of sporting injuries showed SCIWORA, and all infants suffering from child abuse had SCIWORA. CONCLUSIONS: Mechanisms of injury are age related, with younger children sustaining C-spine injuries as a result of motor vehicle-related trauma and older adolescents commonly injured during sporting activities. C-spine injuries in children most commonly involve the upper C-spine, but complete lesions of the cord are associated more frequently with lower C-spine injuries. The type of C-spine injury is related to the mechanism of injury: SCIWORA is associated with sporting activities and child abuse, C-spine dislocations most commonly result from motor vehicle-related trauma (especially among pedestrians), and C-spine fractures occur most commonly as a result of falls and dives. Predictors of mortality include younger age, motor vehicle-related mechanism, C1 dislocations, high ISS greater than 25, and associated CHI. A high index of suspicion for SCIWORA is essential when evaluating adolescents with neck trauma associated with sporting injuries or victims of child abuse. Copyright 2001 by W.B. Saunders Company.
This article was published in J Pediatr Surg
and referenced in Emergency Medicine: Open Access