Incidental findings in the cervical spine at CT for trauma evaluation

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2009 Mar;192(3):725-9. doi: 10.2214/AJR.08.1420.


Objective: CT is the standard of care for assessment of traumatic injuries. Because of the detail depicted with this technique, findings incidental to the injury are easily detected. We sought to determine the frequency and types of incidental findings in the cervical spines of trauma patients undergoing CT.

Materials and methods: The trauma registry was accessed to identify the cases of patients evaluated with cervical spine CT at a level 1 trauma center from January to July 2007. Trauma registry data, including age, sex, injury severity score, mechanism of injury, length of stay, and diagnosis were recorded, and all CT scans of the cervical spine were reviewed for incidental findings. Clinically significant incidental findings were classified according to bodily location, and the association between various patient characteristics and the likelihood of an incidental finding was assessed.

Results: We identified incidental CT findings in 230 of 1,256 patients (18.3%) who underwent CT of the cervical spine during an initial trauma evaluation. We stratified the incidental findings as trauma-related and not trauma-related. The likelihood of non-trauma-related incidental findings was associated with age (p < 0.0001). The likelihood of trauma-related incidental findings was associated with injury severity score (p < 0.0001).

Conclusion: Incidental findings in the cervical spine were associated with age, injury severity score, and mechanism of injury. Awareness of the prevalence of incidental findings is important to assuring that both traumatic and nontraumatic pathologic findings are detected and appropriately managed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cervical Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Registries
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*