The objective of this study was to estimate the sensitivity of plain radiographs in identifying bony or ligamentous cervical spine injury in children.
We identified a retrospective cohort of children younger than 16 years with blunt trauma–related bony or ligamentous cervical spine injury evaluated between 2000 and 2004 at 1 of 17 hospitals participating in the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network. We excluded children who had a single or undocumented number of radiographic views or one of the following injuries types: isolated spinal cord injury, spinal cord injury without radiographic abnormalities, or atlantoaxial rotary subluxation. Using consensus methods, study investigators reviewed the radiology reports and assigned a classification (definite, possible, or no cervical spine injury) as well as film adequacy. A pediatric neurosurgeon, blinded to the classification of the radiology reports, reviewed complete case histories and assigned final cervical spine injury type.
We identified 206 children who met inclusion criteria, of which 127 had definite and 41 had possible cervical spine injury identified by plain radiograph. Of the 186 children with adequate cervical spine radiographs, 168 had definite or possible cervical spine injury identified by plain radiograph for a sensitivity of 90% (95% confidence interval, 85%–94%). Cervical spine radiographs did not identify the following cervical spine injuries: fracture (15 children) and ligamentous injury alone (3 children). Nine children with normal cervical spine radiographs presented with 1 or more of the following: endotracheal intubation (4 children), altered mental status (5 children), or focal neurologic findings (5 children).
Plain radiographs had a high sensitivity for cervical spine injury in our pediatric cohort.