Approach and considerations regarding the patient with spinal injury

Injury. 2005 Jul;36 Suppl 2:B2-12. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2005.06.010.


Spinal trauma often results in a complex interaction of injuries to the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. This combination of biomechanical and neurological considerations provides a unique challenge to those dealing with the spinally injured patient. Proper assessment of the injuries sustained by the patient remains the initial, yet key, step in determining appropriate management. The aim of the physical examination is not only to characterize the nature of the injury to the vertebral column, but also to determine the extent of actual and potential damage to the neural elements. It is also concerned with detecting associated injuries of the brain, viscera, and limbs that can impact on management and outcome, particularly of any neurological deficit. Further information about the spinal column and spinal cord is derived from appropriate radiological assessment, which is evolving with the increasing sophistication of imaging modalities. In spinal injury, classification systems are particularly important as they simplify a diverse range of injury patterns into a useable and reproducible form that may be used to aid communication among clinicians, guide management for individual patients, and provide the basis for research consistency. The medical management involves consideration of the impact of spinal injury, in particular cord injury, on aspects including resuscitation and anticoagulation, as well as the role of steroids. The definitive management of the spinal column injury may be operative or nonoperative. Factors influencing this decision are biomechanical (stabilization of the unstable spine and reduction of deformity) and neurological (improvement in deficit and decompression of neural elements). This article considers these issues and aims to present a balanced and useful algorithm for clinicians to use when faced with spinal injury.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Physical Examination / methods
  • Resuscitation
  • Spinal Injuries / classification
  • Spinal Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Injuries / therapy
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods