Prospective evaluation of criteria for obtaining thoracolumbar radiographs in trauma patients

J Emerg Med. 2003 Jan;24(1):1-7. doi: 10.1016/s0736-4679(02)00659-5.


This study examined if use of clinical screening criteria for selective radiography of blunt trauma patients can identify all patients with thoracolumbar (TL) spine injuries. The study was a prospective cohort of patients undergoing TL spine radiographs following blunt trauma. Patients were considered at risk for TL spine injury if they had any of the following clinical criteria: 1) complaints of TL spine pain, 2) TL spine tenderness, 3) a decreased level of consciousness, 4) intoxication with ethanol or drugs, 5) a neurologic deficit, or 6) a painful distracting injury. Patients without any of these findings were considered at low risk for TL spine injury. Severity of mechanism of injury was also recorded. Data sheets were completed prior to TL radiography. Injury status was determined by the final faculty radiologist interpretation of all radiographic studies. A total of 2404 patients were enrolled. TL spine injuries were identified in 152 patients. Of these 152 patients with spine injuries, all 152 (100%, 95% confidence interval 98-100%) were considered high risk by having at least one of the high-risk criteria. These criteria have a specificity of 3.9%, a positive predictive value of 6.6%, and a negative predictive value of 100%. All of the high-risk criteria but intoxication with ethanol or drugs were important as sole predictors of TL spine injury. The use of high-risk clinical screening criteria identified virtually all blunt trauma patients with acute TL spine injuries. These criteria, however, have poor specificity and positive predictive value.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Trauma / diagnostic imaging
  • Multiple Trauma / physiopathology
  • Physical Examination
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiography
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spinal Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Spinal Injuries / physiopathology
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging*
  • Trauma Centers
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnostic imaging*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / physiopathology