Evaluation of pediatric cervical spine injuries

Am J Emerg Med. 1999 May;17(3):230-4. doi: 10.1016/s0735-6757(99)90111-0.


To compare historical features, clinical examination findings, and radiographic results among pediatric patients with cervical spine injury (CSI), a retrospective review of patients who were diagnosed with CSI was undertaken. Two main groups were identified: radiographically evident cervical spine injury (RESCI), and spinal cord injury without radiographic abnormality (SCIWORA). Demographic, historical, clinical, and radiographic information was obtained from patients' charts and analyzed to determine factors associated with CSI and to determine the efficacy of the various radiographic views. Seventy-two children, ages from 1 month to 15 years (median age, 9 yrs), were included in the study. Sports-related injuries were the most common. Forty patients had RESCI and 32 had SCIWORA. Forty-nine (80%) of all the patients had abnormal findings on neck examination, and six (16%) of the RECSI group had abnormal neurological findings. Lateral radiographs had a sensitivity for CSI of 79%; a three-view radiographic series had a sensitivity of 94%. All patients with CSI who were clinically asymptomatic had both a high-risk injury mechanism and a distracting injury. CSI should be suspected in any child with abnormal findings on neck or neurological examination. A minimum of three radiographic cervical spine views should be obtained in the evaluation of CSI in children. Even in the face of a three-view series, CSI should be suspected in patients with an abnormal neck or neurological exam, high-risk mechanism of injury, or distracting injury.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cervical Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Radiography
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Spinal Injuries / diagnostic imaging*