Isolated ligamentous cervical spinal injury in the polytrauma patient with a head injury

Anaesth Intensive Care. 2007 Feb;35(1):99-104. doi: 10.1177/0310057X0703500115.


The evaluation of the cervical spine in the unconscious trauma patient is a difficult and controversial topic in trauma management. Conventional cervical clearance protocols consisting of plain radiology and computed tomography may not adequately detect unstable cervical ligament and disc injuries, even though a high-risk mechanism of injury has occurred. We present two cases where cervical clearance protocols, utilising plain X-rays and multi-slice computed tomography, failed to identify significant ligamentous spinal injuries. A delay in diagnosis or a missed spinal injury can lead to delays in treatment, thereby increasing the risk of neurological deterioration with the potential devastating sequela of quadriplegia. Therefore, in the unconscious trauma patient who, by definition, has sustained a high-risk mechanism injury, we routinely recommend the use of magnetic resonance imaging in addition to plain X-rays and computed tomography, to evaluate further discoligamentous status.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cervical Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Coma / complications
  • Coma / etiology
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnosis
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / etiology
  • Female
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Humans
  • Ligaments / injuries*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Multiple Trauma* / complications
  • Spinal Fractures
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / injuries
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed