Elective oral tracheal intubation in cervical spine-injured adults

Can J Anaesth. 1991 Sep;38(6):785-9. doi: 10.1007/BF03008461.


There is controversy regarding the optimal mode of elective tracheal intubation in the patient with an unstable cervical spine following trauma. A ten-year review of 150 patients with traumatic cervical spine injuries with well-preserved neurological function, presenting for operative stabilization, was conducted to compare neurological outcome with the mode of tracheal intubation. Preoperative neurological deficits were identified in 49 patients (33%); most were single-level radiculopathies. Intubation occurred after induction of general anaesthesia in 83 patients (55%) and in 67 patients (45%) the tracheas were intubated with the patient awake. One hundred and six patients (71%) underwent oral tracheal intubation and 44 underwent nasal tracheal intubation. Ten intubations were deemed to be difficult requiring more than one attempt to effect intubation. Cervical spine immobilization during intubation was documented in 86 patients (57%). Weighted traction or manual in-line traction were the two manoeuvres most commonly employed to maintain spinal alignment during intubation. After surgery, two patients had new neurological deficits. There were no differences in neurological outcome whether intubation was performed while the patient was awake or under general anaesthesia, or comparing oral tracheal intubation with all other techniques (P = 0.5, Fisher exact test). Also, in-line traction did not affect neurological outcome. Oral tracheal intubation with in-line stabilization, either performed after induction of general anaesthesia or with the patient awake, remains an excellent option for elective airway management in patients with cervical spine injuries.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anesthesia, General*
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / surgery
  • Consciousness
  • Humans
  • Immobilization
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / adverse effects
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Traction