Cervical spine injuries in blunt trauma patients requiring emergent endotracheal intubation

Am J Emerg Med. 1992 Mar;10(2):104-9. doi: 10.1016/0735-6757(92)90039-z.


Airway management in the blunt trauma patient is complicated by the potential for causing or exacerbating an injury to the cervical cord if an unstable cervical fracture is present. The records of 987 blunt trauma patients who required emergent endotracheal intubation over a 5-year period were retrospectively reviewed to determine the incidence and type of cervical spine injury and the incidence of injury based on airway management. Sixty of the patients (6.1%) had a cervical fracture; 53 were potentially unstable injuries by radiographic criteria. Twenty patients had neurologic deficits prior to intubation. Twenty-six patients with unstable injuries were intubated orally, 25 nasally, and two by cricothyrotomy. One patient developed a neurologic deficit after nasotracheal intubation. Because of a possible selection bias in which severely injured patients were preferentially referred to this trauma center, the true incidence of cervical spine injuries may be lower than the 6.1% we found. The authors conclude that the incidence of serious cervical spine injury in a very severely injured population of blunt trauma patients is relatively low, and that commonly used methods of precautionary airway management rarely lead to neurologic deterioration.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cervical Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergencies
  • Fractures, Bone / diagnostic imaging
  • Fractures, Bone / etiology
  • Humans
  • Intubation, Intratracheal*
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiography
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating* / diagnostic imaging
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating* / etiology