Background/purpose: Cervical spine injuries are uncommon in children, and, therefore, presumptive immobilization and diagnosis remain controversial. The purpose of this study was to review the author's experience with cervical spine injuries in children to determine the incidence, injury mechanism, pattern of injury, and subsequent functional outcome.
Methods: Fifty-two children over a 6-year period (1994 to 1999) with a cervical spine injury secondary to blunt trauma were identified (1.3% incidence). The functional independent measure (FIM) was assessed at the time of discharge in each of 3 categories: communication, feeding, and locomotion.
Results: Mean age of the study children was 10.7 +/- 0.7 years. Eight children (15%) were less than 5 years old, and 4 (8%) were less than 2 years old. The mechanism of injury included motor vehicle crash (52%), falls (15%), bicycle accidents (11%), sports-related injuries (10%), pedestrian accidents (8%), and motorcycle crashes (4%). Seven patients died yielding an overall mortality rate of 13%. Injuries were distributed along the cervical spinal cord as follows: 5 atlanto-occipital dislocations, 28 C1 to C3 injuries, 17 C4 to C7 injuries, and 2 ligamentous injuries. FIM scores were recorded for 18 patients. Seventeen communicated independently, 14 fed themselves independently, and 12 had independent locomotive function.
Conclusions: Cervical spine injuries occur in children across a spectrum of ages. Although atlanto-occipital dislocation is a highly lethal event, children with C1 to C7 injuries have a high likelihood of reasonable independent functioning.