Cervical spine injuries in children

J Trauma. 1990 Apr;30(4):463-9.


Cardiorespiratory arrest occurring immediately after multiple injuries is usually assumed to be due to severe cerebral injury, acute hemorrhage, or airway obstruction. We have identified a group of 19 children (mean age, 6.3 years) who presented with absent vital signs (VSA) or severe hypotension, unexplained by blood loss, where these findings were caused by injury to the high cervical spine and cord, demonstrated either by X-ray or postmortem examination. Fourteen had radiologic evidence of injury to the spine between C1 and C3. In two patients the bony injury was at the C6-7 level, while in two patients the cervical spine X-ray was normal. Eighteen of the 19 children were initially resuscitated but died from a combination of hypoxic/ischemic encephalopathy and cerebral injury. Sixteen patients underwent postmortem examination and in 13 there was evidence of cord laceration, up to and including cord transection. These findings demonstrate a distinct pattern of "juvenile" cervical spine injury involving the high spine and cord which results in either apnea and cardiorespiratory arrest, or severe hypotension. This previously unrecognized cause of cardiorespiratory arrest should be considered in all children presenting with VSA after multiple trauma, even when there is no apparent radiologic abnormality of the cervical spine.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cervical Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Heart Arrest / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Infarction
  • Ischemia
  • Prognosis
  • Radiography
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / etiology*
  • Spinal Cord / blood supply
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / diagnostic imaging