Value of complete cervical helical computed tomographic scanning in identifying cervical spine injury in the unevaluable blunt trauma patient with multiple injuries: a prospective study

J Trauma. 1999 Nov;47(5):896-902; discussion 902-3. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199911000-00014.


Objective: To evaluate the role of routine helical computed tomographic (CT) scan of the entire cervical spine in high-risk patients with multiple injuries.

Methods: Prospective study of patients with severe blunt multiple injuries, requiring intensive care unit admission and CT scan of another body area besides the cervical spine. All patients were evaluated by means of standard cervical spine radiography. A complete cervical spine CT scan was performed during the same trip to the scanner in which other body areas were evaluated. The plain films and the CT scans were read by a radiologist in a blinded manner.

Results: Fifty-eight patients fulfilled the criteria for inclusion in the study. The mean Glasgow Coma Scale score was 8.9 and the mean Injury Severity Score was 24.1. Twenty patients (34.4%) had cervical spine injuries (12 stable and 8 unstable injuries). Plain radiography missed eight injuries (including three unstable) and its sensitivity was 60%, specificity 100%, positive predictive value 100%, and negative predictive value 85.1%. The helical CT scan missed two spinal injuries (both stable) and its sensitivity was 90%, specificity was 100%, positive predictive value = 100%, negative predictive value = 95%.

Conclusion: There is a high incidence of cervical spine injuries in the severe, blunt, multiple-injury, unevaluable patients requiring intensive care unit admission. Plain radiography alone is not reliable in diagnosing many cervical spine injuries. Complete cervical spiral computed tomography is superior to plain radiography. It is suggested that in this selected group of patients, both plain radiography and spiral computed tomography should be performed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cervical Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Trauma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Fractures / diagnostic imaging*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnostic imaging*