Objective: In evaluating the pediatric cervical spine for injury, the use of adult protocols without sufficient sensitivity to pediatric injury patterns may lead to excessive radiation doses. Data on injury location and means of detection can inform pediatric-specific guideline development.
Methods: We retrospectively identified pediatric patients with codes from the International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision, for cervical spine injury treated between 1980 and 2000. Collected data included physical findings, radiographic means of detection, and location of injury. Sensitivity of plain x-rays and diagnostic yield from additional radiographic studies were calculated.
Results: Of 239 patients, 190 had true injuries and adequate medical records; of these, 187 had adequate radiology records. Patients without radiographic abnormality were excluded. In 34 children younger than 8 years, National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study criteria missed two injuries (sensitivity, 94%), with 76% of injuries occurring from occiput-C2. In 158 children older than 8 years, National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study criteria identified all injured patients (sensitivity, 100%), with 25% of injuries occurring from occiput-C2. For children younger than 8 years, plain-film sensitivity was 75% and combination plain-film/occiput-C3 computed tomographic scan had a sensitivity of 94%, whereas combination plain-film and flexion-extension views had 81% sensitivity. In patients older than 8 years, the sensitivities were 93%, 97%, and 94%, respectively.
Conclusion: Younger children tend to have more rostral (occiput-C2) injuries compared with older children. The National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study protocol may have lower sensitivity in young children than in adults. Limited computed tomography from occiput-C3 may increase diagnostic yield appreciably in young children compared with flexion-extension views. Further prospective studies, especially of young children, are needed to develop reliable pediatric protocols.