Background: Cervical spine injuries are uncommon in pediatric trauma patients. Previous studies were often limited by the small numbers of patients available for evaluation. The aim of this study was to determine the incidence and characteristics of pediatric cervical spine injuries at this Level 1 trauma center and to review the authors' experiences with documented cases.
Methods: This study retrospectively analyzed the clinical records of all pediatric trauma patients with skeletal and/or nonskeletal injuries of the spine that were admitted to this Level 1 trauma center between 1980 and 2004. Those with significant injuries of the cervical spine were identified and included in this study. Pediatric patients were defined as patients younger than the age of 17 years. In addition, they were stratified by age into two study groups: group A included patients aged 8 years or fewer and group B contained patients from the ages of 9 to 16 years.
Results: We found 56 pediatric patients with injuries of the cervical spine that met criteria for inclusion. Thirty-one female and 25 male patients with an average age of 8.9 years (range, 1-16 years) sustained significant skeletal and/or nonskeletal injuries of the cervical spine and were entered in this study. Thirty patients (54%) were aged 8 years or fewer and entered into study group A, whereas 26 patients (46%) from the ages of 9 to 16 met criteria for inclusion in study group B. An analysis of data revealed that younger patients (group A) showed significantly more injuries of the upper cervical spine, whereas older children (group B) sustained significantly more injuries of the lower level. Spinal cord injuries without radiographic findings were only found in study group A. In addition, younger children were more likely injured by motor vehicle crashes, whereas older children more commonly sustained C-spine injuries during sports activities. Two-thirds of our patients showed neurologic deficits, and the overall mortality was 28%.
Conclusion: The results of our study were similar to several previous reports, underscoring a low incidence (1.2%) and age-related characteristics. Younger children had a predilection for injuries of the upper cervical spine, whereas children in the older age group sustained significantly more injuries of the lower cervical spine. Spinal cord injuries without radiographic abnormalities were only seen in the younger age group. Despite the low incidence of cervical spine injuries in pediatric patients, increased efforts at prevention are demanded because mortality rate (27%) and incidence of neurologic deficits (66%) were dreadfully high in our series.