Spinal subdural hemorrhage in abusive head trauma: a retrospective study

Radiology. 2012 Jan;262(1):216-23. doi: 10.1148/radiol.11102390. Epub 2011 Nov 8.


Purpose: To compare the relative incidence, distribution, and radiologic characteristics of spinal subdural hemorrhage after abusive head trauma versus that after accidental trauma in children.

Materials and methods: This study received prior approval from the Human Subjects Protection Office. Informed consent was waived. This study was HIPAA compliant. Two hundred fifty-two children aged 0-2 years treated for abusive head trauma at our institute between 1997 and 2009 were identified through retrospective chart review. A second group of 70 children aged 0-2 years treated at our institute for well-documented accidental trauma between 2003 and 2010 were also identified through retrospective chart review. All clinical data and cross-sectional imaging results, including computed tomographic and magnetic resonance imaging of the brain, spine, chest, abdomen, and pelvis, were reviewed for both of these groups. A Fisher exact test was performed to assess the statistical significance of the proportion of the spinal canal subdural hemorrhage in abusive head trauma versus that in accidental trauma.

Results: In the abusive head trauma cohort, 67 (26.5%) of 252 children had evaluable spinal imaging results. Of these, 38 (56%) of 67 children had undergone thoracolumbar imaging, and 24 (63%) of 38 had thoracolumbar subdural hemorrhage. Spinal imaging was performed in this cohort 0.3-141 hours after injury (mean, 23 hours ± 27 [standard deviation]), with 65 (97%) of 67 cases having undergone imaging within 52 hours of injury. In the second cohort with accidental injury, only one (1%) of 70 children had spinal subdural hemorrhage at presentation; this patient had displaced occipital fracture. The comparison of incidences of spinal subdural hemorrhage in abusive head trauma versus those in accidental trauma was statistically significant (P < .001).

Conclusion: Spinal canal subdural hemorrhage was present in more than 60% of children with abusive head trauma who underwent thoracolumbar imaging in this series but was rare in those with accidental trauma.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents*
  • Child Abuse*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnosis*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Hematoma, Subdural / diagnosis*
  • Hematoma, Subdural / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Pennsylvania / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Injuries / epidemiology
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods