Traumatic cervical spine fracture patterns on CT: a retrospective analysis at a level 1 trauma center

Emerg Radiol. 2021 Oct;28(5):965-976. doi: 10.1007/s10140-021-01952-z. Epub 2021 Jun 11.


Purpose: The purpose of our study was to determine common acute traumatic cervical spine fracture patterns on CT cervical spine (CTCS).

Methods: We retrospectively reviewed 1091 CTCS positive for traumatic fractures performed over a 10-year period at a level 1 trauma center. Fractures were classified by vertebral level, laterality, and anatomic location (anterior/posterior arch, body, odontoid, pedicle, facet, lateral mass, lamina, spinous process, transverse foramina, and transverse processes).

Results: C2 was the most commonly fractured vertebra (38% of all studies), followed by C7 (32.4%). 48.7% of studies had upper cervical spine (C1 and/or C2) fractures. 39.7% of positive studies involved > 1 vertebral level. Conditioned on fractures at one cervical level, the probability of fracture was greatest at adjacent levels with a 50% chance of sustaining a C7 fracture with C6 fracture. However, 31.3% (136) of studies with multi-level fractures had non-contiguous fractures. The most common isolated vertebral process fracture was of the transverse process, seen in 89 (8.2%) studies at a single level, 27 (2.5%) studies at multiple levels. Subaxial spine vertebral process fractures outnumbered body fractures with progressive dominance of vertebral process fracture down the spine.

Conclusion: C2 was the most commonly fractured vertebral level. Multi-level traumatic cervical spine fractures constituted 40% of our cohort, most commonly at C6/C7 and C1/C2. Although the conditional probability of concurrent fracture in studies with multi-level fractures was greatest in contiguous levels, nearly one-third of multi-level fractures involved non-contiguous fractures.

Keywords: C2 fracture; CT cervical spine; Cervical spine fractures; Non-contiguous fractures.