Background context: Spinal injuries are common sequelae of falls from hunting tree stands. Significant neurological injury is not uncommon and can result in significant morbidity as well as enormous expenditure of health care dollars. Recent literature on the subject is limited.
Purpose: The purpose of this study was to identify precipitating causes, characterize the spectrum of spinal injury, and determine potential interventional safety and prevention recommendations.
Study design: A retrospective study.
Methods: Medical record review of 22 patients admitted either directly or via referral to a level I spinal cord injury referral center over a 10-year period (1995-2005) after a fall from a hunting tree stand.
Results: All patients were men with a mean age of 46 years (range, 27-80 years). Initial acute care hospitalization averaged 10 days (range, 2-28 days). The average height of fall was 18 feet (range, 10-30 feet). Four of 19 falls (21%) occurred during the morning hours, 2 of 19 falls occurred during the afternoon, and 13 of 19 falls (68%) occurred during the evening hours. Time lapse from injury to presentation to an emergency department ranged from 30 minutes to 14 hours. Alcohol use was a factor in 2 of 20 falls (10%). Hypothermia complicated 3 of 21 cases (14%). Associated injuries were present in 12 of 21 patients (57%) and included fractures to the axial and appendicular skeleton, pneumothoraces, a retroperitoneal bleed, and a brachial plexopathy. Eight of 22 patients (37%) sustained injury to the cervical spine. Five of these 8 patients (63%) had neurological deficits (3 complete and 2 incomplete spinal cord injuries). Thirteen of 22 (59%) patients sustained injury to the thoracic or lumbar spine. Ten of these 13 (77%) had neurologic deficits (3 complete and 7 incomplete). Nine of 22 (41%) patients were treated nonoperatively; the remaining 13 (59%) underwent operative intervention.
Conclusions: Falls from hunting tree stands remain a significant cause of spinal injury and subsequent disability. The best intervention for these injuries is prevention. There is a continued need for hunter safety education to reduce the incidence of these injuries with emphasis on safety harness usage, proper installation and annual inspection of tree stands, hunting in groups with periodic contact, the use of communication devices, and abstinence from alcohol consumption while hunting.