Purpose: The objective of this study was to assess the mechanisms and patterns of injury and outcome in children with cervical (C) spine trauma.
Methods: We reviewed the National Pediatric Trauma Registry between April 1994 and March 1999 and identified (by ICD-9 criteria) all cases of blunt trauma victims with cervical fractures, dislocations, and spinal cord injuries without radiographic abnormality (SCIWORA). Data are shown as mean +/- SEM.
Results: During the 5-year period, the incidence of blunt C-spine injury was 1.6% (n = 408 of 24,740 total entries). Mean age was 10.5+/-0.3 (1 to 20) years, and 59% were boys. Leading mechanisms were motor vehicle accidents (n = 179; 44%), sports (n = 66; 16%), and pedestrian injuries (n = 57, 14%). Younger (< or =10 years) children more often sustained high (C1 to C4) vs low (C5 to C7) injuries (85% v 57%; P<.01) and also had a higher incidence of dislocations (31% v 20%; P<.01) and cord injuries (26% v 14%; P<.01), whereas older children had more C-spine fractures (66% v 43%; P<0.01). Mortality rates (overall, 17%) were higher in younger children (n = 180) when compared with older children (n = 228; 30% v 7%; P<.01). Overall, the majority of deaths (93%) were associated with brain injuries. No children with cervical dislocations had neurologic sequelae. The preponderance of children with fractures (83%) also were without neurologic injury, whereas those associated with SCIWORA usually were (80%) partial. Overall, complete cord lesions were infrequent (4%).
Conclusions: These data, representing the largest series to date, confirm that blunt C-spine injuries in children are rare. Patterns of injury vary significantly according to child age. Major neurologic sequelae in survivors is uncommon, does not correlate well with cord level, and rarely is complete.