The objective of this study was to better understand the variability that exists in the contemporary pediatric cervical spine (c-spine) clearance protocols and how this variability affects clinical practice and outcomes.
Pediatric c-spine injury is a rare but potentially devastating event. In the adult population, validated tools, such as the National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study (NEXUS) criteria and the Canadian C-spine Rule, are available to aid in safely clearing the c-spine clinically while reducing the utilization of radiography. In the pediatric population, no standardized, validated tool exists, leading to variability in protocols that are put to use.
A systematic literature search was conducted in Cochrane, Embase, PubMed/MEDLINE, and Web of Science electronic databases from January 1, 2009 until April 30, 2021. Data were extracted from studies that met inclusion criteria. Quality of the included studies was assessed using the Methodological Index for Non-Randomized Studies (MINORS) criteria.
There were 19 studies included in this systematic review. From these 19 studies, there were 16 unique protocols, 12 of which (75%) utilized some or all NEXUS criteria. Of the protocols that provided a detailed imaging algorithm (N=14), 12 (85.7%) utilized x-rays as the initial imaging modality. Indications for computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging varied widely across the protocols. The rate of x-rays, computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging utilization ranged from 16.7% to 97.8%, 5.4% to 100%, and 0% to 100%, respectively. Ten studies evaluated the efficacy of protocol implementation, with 9 (90%) of these studies showing an overall reduction of imaging rates in the postprotocol period. No clinically significant missed injuries were reported in the included studies.
Details of c-spine clearance protocols differed significantly across the included studies, but many applied some or all NEXUS criteria. Overall, while variable, protocols served to safely treat pediatric patients without missing any clinically significant c-spine injuries, while reducing radiation exposure.