Pediatric cervical spine injuries: defining the disease

J Pediatr Surg. 2001 Feb;36(2):373-6. doi: 10.1053/jpsu.2001.20720.


Background/purpose: Pediatric cervical spine injuries are uncommon. Most previous studies have been hampered by the small number of patients available for evaluation. The purpose of this study is to determine the incidence and characteristics of pediatric cervical spine injury utilizing a multiinstitutional pediatric trauma database, and to assess the impact of age and level of spine injury on mortality rate.

Methods: All children with cervical spine injury entered into the National Pediatric Trauma Registry over a consecutive 10-year period were identified. Patients were stratified by age, mortality, presence or absence of bony injury, level of cervical spine injury, and presence of neurologic deficit. Data were analyzed utilizing Student's t test for continuous variables and chi(2) analysis for categorical variables. Statistical significance was accepted at the P less than .05 level.

Results: From a database of 75,172 injured children, 1,098 were identified with cervical spine injury, overall incidence 1.5%. The mean age of the study group was 11 +/- 5 years, and 61% were boys. Nine hundred eight children (83%) had bony spine injury. Distribution of bony injury among upper cervical spine, lower cervical spine, or both was 52%, 28%, and 7%, respectively. The remaining 13% comprised unspecified levels of injury. Upper cervical spine injuries were prevalent among all age groups (42%, age < or = 8; 58%, age > 8), whereas lower spine injuries predominated in older children (85%, age > 8). One third of children in the study group had neurologic injury, and half of these had no radiographic evidence of bony injury. Ninety-four children (24%) had a complete cord injury, and the remaining 76% had an incomplete spinal cord injury. One hundred eleven children (23%) with upper spine injury died compared with 11 children (4%) with lower spine injury. Mortality rate was highest (48%) in those with atlanto-occipital dislocation.

Conclusions: From this, the largest experience with pediatric cervical spine injury, several conclusions can be drawn. (1) Cervical spine injury occurs in 1.5% of injured children. (2) Upper cervical spine injuries are not limited to younger children but are equally prevalent in both age groups. (3) Associated mortality rate is nearly 6-fold higher in patients with upper cervical injury. (4) Seventeen percent of children with cervical spine trauma show no radiologic anomaly, yet 50% of children with cervical spinal cord injury have no initial radiologic abnormalities. (5) Of those in whom cervical spine injury is associated with a neurologic deficit, the deficit is complete in 24% of children.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / diagnosis
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / epidemiology
  • Spinal Injuries / diagnosis
  • Spinal Injuries / epidemiology