Cervical spine injury and airway management

Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2002 Apr;15(2):193-201. doi: 10.1097/00001503-200204000-00009.


Cervical spine injuries occur in 2-5% of blunt trauma patients, and 1-5% of these injuries are initially missed. Data from the large National Emergency X-Radiography Utilisation Study have helped to define the problem in some detail. There is a consensus on how to clear the cervical spine in patients who are alert, but in patients with altered mental status the choice of strategy for spinal clearance is more controversial. Despite obtaining extensive radiological studies, some clinicians will not clear the patient's cervical spine until full recovery of consciousness. As long as manual in-line neck stabilization is applied, rapid sequence induction of anaesthesia, followed by direct laryngoscopy and oral intubation appears to be safe in the patient with a cervical spine injury. If intubation is not urgent, an awake fibreoptic technique is a useful option. If intubation of the patient with a potential cervical spine injury fails, or appropriate experienced personnel are unavailable, the laryngeal mask airway or one of its various modifications are useful alternatives.