Flexion-distraction injuries of the lumbar spine and associated abdominal trauma

J Trauma. 1990 Apr;30(4):436-44.


Recent experience with flexion-distraction injuries of the lumbar spine associated with blunt abdominal trauma and the use of a lap belt alone has caused us to review our experience over the last 7 years. Eighteen patients were identified, with an average age of 22 years, and an average followup of 34 months. Fifteen were involved in motor vehicle accidents, with 11 being single-vehicle accidents. Of note, 12 of the 15 were rear seat passengers with lap belts only. Twelve patients suffered abdominal injury, seven requiring operative intervention, mainly for hollow viscus injury. In three patients, a delay of 24 hours or more occurred before recognition of intra-abdominal pathology requiring surgical therapy. One patient had an unrecognized spinal fracture for 2 weeks after abdominal surgery for a perforated viscus. The spinal injury was carefully assessed and analyzed for prognostic factors. Six were graded excellent, five good, four fair, and one poor. One case of paraplegia associated with avulsion of the spinal cord from distraction is reported. Prognostic factors included the amount of facet joint involvement and the degree of initial kyphosis. Those having greater than 17 degrees of kyphosis had a poor prognosis. Early recognition of the constellation of injuries involving the spine and abdomen associated with the use of the lap belt is recommended with surgery to the spinal fracture as outlined.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Injuries / complications*
  • Accidents, Traffic
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Fractures, Bone / complications*
  • Fractures, Bone / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Kyphosis / etiology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Radiography
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Seat Belts / adverse effects*
  • Spinal Injuries / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Injuries / physiopathology