Missed cervical spine injuries: aim for the top

Emerg Radiol. 2022 Jun;29(3):491-497. doi: 10.1007/s10140-022-02026-4. Epub 2022 Mar 9.


Purpose: To determine the incidence of missed cervical spine injuries by radiology registrars in a major trauma centre and to identify any common blind spots.

Materials and methods: All patients with an acute traumatic injury who underwent a CT scan of the cervical spine in our unit, which serves a population of approximately 900,000, between September 2016 and December 2017 and whom had a separate radiology trainee report and final neuroradiology consultant report available were included in the study. We recorded the date and time of the scan, the registrar error and the registrar grade. An error was defined as follows: (1) a missed fracture; (2) a missed ligamentous injury; (3) overcall of a fracture (e.g. degenerative calcification or nutrient vessel). Groups were compared with the chi-square test.

Results: Five hundred seventy-three CT scans of the cervical spine fitted the inclusion criteria and were analysed. There were a total of 149 injuries over eight levels in 96 patients. There were 12 registrar errors (2.1% discrepancy rate), of which 11 were missed acute injuries (9 fractures and 2 disco-ligamentous injuries). The grade of the registrar was not significant (p = 0.603). Seventy-three percent (8/11) missed injuries were disproportionately at the cranio-cervical junction, where only 11.6% of traumatic cervical spine injuries occur p < 0.0001. Forty-five percent of the missed injuries included occipital condyle fractures, which occurred in only 12/149 injuries (8%).

Conclusions: Radiology registrars safely report emergency CT scans of the cervical spine performed following trauma with a low discrepancy rate. Missed cervical spine injuries commonly occur at the cranio-cervical junction, which should become a standard review area.

Keywords: Cervical spine injury; Occipital condyle fractures; Trauma.

MeSH terms

  • Cervical Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries
  • Humans
  • Neck Injuries*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Injuries* / diagnostic imaging
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Trauma Centers