Evaluation of the acute cervical spine: a management algorithm

J Trauma. 2000 Sep;49(3):450-6. doi: 10.1097/00005373-200009000-00011.


Background: Safe, efficient, and cost-effective evaluation of the spine is the goal in the trauma setting. At our Level I trauma facility, the trauma service, emergency medicine, radiology, anesthesia, and the spine service combined individual concerns into one agreed-upon clearance protocol. Here, we present the effectiveness of a new cervical spine clearance protocol.

Methods: A retrospective review was initiated of all trauma patients evaluated in a Level I trauma center the year before and after implementation of a new cervical spine protocol to determine the incidence of missed cervical injuries. An additional 6 months were reviewed to detect any missed injuries late in the study period.

Results: During the 2-year study period, 4,460 patients presented to the emergency room with some form of cervical spine precautions. Blunt trauma comprised 90% of the study population. According to the protocol, approximately 45% required further cervical radiographs after presentation. In the preprotocol year, 77 of 2,217 (3.4%) patients were diagnosed with cervical spine injuries, 16 of 77 (21%) with multiple level of injuries, and 25 of 77 (32%) with neurologic compromise. Three of 2,217 patients had missed cervical spine injuries on their initial evaluations. In the postprotocol year, 84 of 2,243 (3.4%) patients had cervical injuries, 25 of 84 (30%) with multiple levels of injuries and 28 of 84 (28%) with neurologic compromise. No patient evaluated during the protocol year was missed. All statistics between the two groups were not significant.

Conclusion: The current protocol by risk stratifying patients on presentation is effective in assessing patients for cervical spine injuries.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Algorithms*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clinical Protocols
  • Emergency Treatment* / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Kentucky / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Medical Records
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Trauma Centers / statistics & numerical data