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Unstable Cervical Spine Fracture After Penetrating Neck Injury: A Rare Entity in an Analysis of 1,069 Patients

Lustenberger, Thomas MD; Talving, Peep MD, PhD, FACS; Lam, Lydia MD; Kobayashi, Leslie MD; Inaba, Kenji MD, FACS; Plurad, David MD, FACS; Branco, Bernardino C. MD; Demetriades, Demetrios MD, PhD, FACS

The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care: April 2011 - Volume 70 - Issue 4 - p 870-872
doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e3181e7576e
Original Article
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Background: The value of cervical spine immobilization after penetrating trauma to the neck is the subject of lively debate. The purpose of this study was to review the epidemiology of unstable cervical spine injuries (CSI) after penetrating neck trauma in a large cohort of patients.

Methods: This is a retrospective analysis of patients admitted with penetrating neck injuries to a Level I trauma center from January 1996 through December 2008. A penetrating neck injury was defined as a gunshot wound (GSW) or stab wound (SW) between the clavicles and the base of the skull. Univariate and multivariate analyses were performed to investigate associations between injury mechanisms, the presence of CSI instability, and mortality. Risk factors independently associated with the presence of a CSI were identified.

Results: A total of 1,069 patients met inclusion criteria, of which 463 patients (43.3%) and 606 patients (56.7%) were sustaining GSW and SW, respectively. Overall, 65 patients (6.1%) were diagnosed with a CSI with a significantly higher incidence after GSWs compared with SWs (12.1% vs. 1.5%; p < 0.001). In four patients (0.4%), the CSI was considered unstable, all of them following GSW. All patients with unstable CSI had obvious neurologic deficits or altered mental status at the time of admission. Risk factors independently associated with the presence of a CSI were GSW to the neck and a Glasgow Coma Scale score ≤8 on admission (R2 = 0.16).

Conclusion: The overall incidence of unstable CSI after penetrating trauma to the neck is exceedingly low at 0.4%. Following GSW to the neck, an unstable CSI was noted in <1% of patients. After cervical SW, however, no spinal instability was noted precluding the need for spinal precautions in these instances.

From the Division of Acute Care Surgery (Trauma, Emergency Surgery, and Surgical Critical Care), Los Angeles County + University of Southern California Medical Center, Los Angeles, California.

Submitted for publication January 10, 2010.

Accepted for publication May 11, 2010.

Address for reprints: Peep Talving, MD, PhD, FACS, Division of Acute Care Surgery (Trauma, Emergency Surgery, and Surgical Critical Care), Los Angeles County General Hospital (LAC + USC), 1200 North State Street, C5L100, Los Angeles, CA, 90033-4525; email: peep.talving@surgery.usc.edu.

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.