Radiographic cervical spine evaluation in the alert asymptomatic blunt trauma victim: much ado about nothing

J Trauma. 1996 May;40(5):768-74. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199605000-00015.


Objective: To evaluate the hypothesis that alert nonintoxicated trauma patients with negative clinical examinations are at no risk of cervical spine injury and do not need any radiographic investigation.

Design: Prospective study.

Setting: A university-affiliated teaching county hospital.

Patients: Five hundred and forty-nine consecutive alert, oriented, and clinically nonintoxicated blunt trauma victims with no neck symptoms.

Results: All patients had negative clinical neck examinations. After radiographic assessment, no cervical spine injuries were identified. Less than half the patients could be evaluated adequately with the three standard initial views (anteroposterior, lateral, and odontoid). All the rest needed more radiographs and/or computed tomographic scans. A total of 2,27 cervical spine radiographs, 78 computed tomographic scans and magnetic resonance imagings were performed. Seventeen patients stayed one day in the hospital for no other reason but radiographic clearance of an asymptomatic neck. The total cost for x-rays and extra hospital days was $242,000. These patients stayed in the collar for an average of 3.3 hours (range, 0.5-72 hours). There was never an injury missed.

Conclusions: Clinical examination alone can reliably assess all blunt trauma patients who are alert, nonintoxicated, and report no neck symptoms. In the absence of any palpation or motion neck tenderness during examination, the patient may be released from cervical spine precautions without any radiographic investigations.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Braces
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Child
  • Consciousness*
  • Female
  • Hospital Charges
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / economics
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / etiology
  • Physical Examination
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiography
  • Risk Factors
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnostic imaging*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / economics
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / etiology
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / therapy