Background context: The nature of blunt and penetrating injuries to the spine and spinal column in a military combat setting has been poorly documented in the literature. To date, no study has attempted to characterize and compare blunt and penetrating spine injuries sustained by American servicemembers.
Purpose: The purpose of this study was to compare the military penetrating spine injuries with blunt spine injuries in the current military conflicts.
Study design/setting: Retrospective study.
Patient sample: All American military servicemembers who have been injured while deployed in Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) whose medical data have been entered into the Joint Theater Trauma Registry (JTTR).
Methods: The JTTR was queried for all American servicemembers sustaining an injury to the spinal column or spinal cord while deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. These data were manually reviewed for relevant information regarding demographics, mechanism of injury, surgical intervention, and neurologic injury.
Results: A total of 598 servicemembers sustained injuries to the spine or spinal cord. Isolated blunt injuries were recorded in 396 (66%) servicemembers and 165 (28%) sustained isolating penetrating injuries. Thirty servicemembers (5%) sustained combined blunt and penetrating injuries to the spine. The most commonly documented injuries were transverse process fractures, compression fractures, and burst fractures in the blunt-injured servicemembers versus transverse process fractures, lamina fractures, and spinous process fractures in those injured with a penetrating injury. One hundred four (17%) servicemembers sustained spinal cord injuries, comprising 10% of blunt injuries and 38% of penetrating injuries (p<.0001). Twenty-eight percent (28%) of blunt-injured servicemembers underwent a surgical procedure compared with 41% of those injured by penetrating mechanisms (p=.4). Sixty percent (n=12/20) of blunt-injured servicemembers experienced a neurologic improvement after surgical intervention at follow-up compared with 43% of servicemembers (n=10/23) who underwent a surgical intervention after a penetrating trauma (p=.28). Explosions accounted for 58% of blunt injuries and 47% of penetrating injuries, whereas motor vehicle collisions accounted for 40% of blunt injuries and 2% of penetrating injuries. Concomitant injuries to the abdomen, chest, and head were common in both groups.
Conclusions: Blunt and penetrating injuries to the spinal column and spinal cord occur frequently in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Penetrating injuries result in significantly higher rates of spinal cord injury and trend toward increased rates of operative interventions and decreased neurologic improvement at follow-up.
Published by Elsevier Inc.