Cervical spine injuries in pediatric athletes: mechanisms and management

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✓Sports-related injuries to the spine, although relatively rare compared with head injuries, contribute to significant morbidity and mortality in children. The reported incidence of traumatic cervical spine injury in pediatric athletes varies, and most studies are limited because of the low prevalence of injury. The anatomical and biomechanical differences between the immature spine of pediatric patients and the mature spine of adults that make pediatric patients more susceptible to injury include a greater mobility of the spine due to ligamentous laxity, shallow angulations of facet joints, immature development of neck musculature, and incomplete ossification of the vertebrae. As a result of these differences, 60 to 80% of all pediatric vertebral injuries occur in the cervical region. Understanding pediatric injury biomechanics in the cervical spine is important to the neurosurgeon, because coaches, parents, and athletes who place themselves in positions known to be associated with spinal cord injury (SCI) run a higher risk of such injury and paralysis. The mechanisms of SCI can be broadly subclassified into five types: axial loading, dislocation, lateral bending, rotation, and hyperflexion/hyperextension, although severe injuries often result from a combination of more than one of these subtypes. The aim of this review was to detail the characteristics and management of pediatric cervical spine injury.

Abbreviations used in this paper:CT = computed tomography; MR = magnetic resonance; SCI = spinal cord injury; SCIWORA = SCI without radiographic abnormality; VB = vertebral body.

✓Sports-related injuries to the spine, although relatively rare compared with head injuries, contribute to significant morbidity and mortality in children. The reported incidence of traumatic cervical spine injury in pediatric athletes varies, and most studies are limited because of the low prevalence of injury. The anatomical and biomechanical differences between the immature spine of pediatric patients and the mature spine of adults that make pediatric patients more susceptible to injury include a greater mobility of the spine due to ligamentous laxity, shallow angulations of facet joints, immature development of neck musculature, and incomplete ossification of the vertebrae. As a result of these differences, 60 to 80% of all pediatric vertebral injuries occur in the cervical region. Understanding pediatric injury biomechanics in the cervical spine is important to the neurosurgeon, because coaches, parents, and athletes who place themselves in positions known to be associated with spinal cord injury (SCI) run a higher risk of such injury and paralysis. The mechanisms of SCI can be broadly subclassified into five types: axial loading, dislocation, lateral bending, rotation, and hyperflexion/hyperextension, although severe injuries often result from a combination of more than one of these subtypes. The aim of this review was to detail the characteristics and management of pediatric cervical spine injury.

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Address reprint requests to: John A. Jane Jr, M.D., Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, P.O. Box 800212, Charlottesville, Virginia 22908–00212. email: jaj2k@virginia.edu.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.

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