Background: To determine if routine radiographic evaluation of the cervical spine could be eliminated in the alert, sober trauma patient who has no neck pain, tenderness, or other major injuries without a significant increase in missed occult injury.
Design: Prospective cohort study.
Setting: Emergency department and general surgery service at a military tertiary medical center.
Main outcome measure: Those patients with cervical spine injuries.
Results: Sixteen patients (2%) had cervical spine injuries, all had signs and/or symptoms of their injury on presentation. Ninety-six patients (14%) who were not intoxicated and had no neck pain, tenderness, or other major injuries were evaluated. None of these patients had abnormal cervical spine studies. Two hundred ninety patients (43%) were followed up between 30 to 150 days. No missed injuries were noted.
Conclusions: These results indicate that blunt trauma patients may not require cervical spine roentgenography if they meet the following criteria: absence of mental status changes, intoxication, neck pain or tenderness, neurologic signs or symptoms, or simultaneous major distracting injury. Because of the small incidence of cervical spine injuries, further studies are necessary to evaluate the positive predictive value of history and physical examination of the cervical spine in a trauma patient.