Between January 1, 1970, and December 31, 1988, 179 children (birth to age 16) were treated for spinal cord and/or vertebral column injury by the Neurosurgical Service at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Pediatric injuries accounted for 9% of all spinal trauma seen during this period. The mean age was 10.2 years. Sixty-two children were between birth and 8 years of age and 117 were between ages 9 and 16. The cause, distribution, type of injury, and severity of neurological injury varied with age. Neurological outcome was dependent on the severity of the initial neurological injury. Children with complete or severe incomplete myelopathy uniformly remained with severe neurological dysfunction; children with mild to moderate injuries recovered normal or nearly normal neurological function. Surgical versus nonoperative management had no bearing on neurological outcome. Twelve percent of the children with severe spinal cord injuries developed posttraumatic spinal deformity. We conclude that spinal injury patterns differ between preadolescent and older children. Most injuries can be successfully managed with nonoperative therapy. Prognosis is primarily correlated with the severity of the initial neurological insult. Finally, children with severe spinal cord injury must have close, long-term follow-up to monitor the development of posttraumatic spinal deformity.