Cervical spine clearance after trauma in children

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  • 1 Department of Neurosurgery, Children’s Hospital of New York, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York; and Departments of Neurosurgery and Surgery, Primary Children’s Medical Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah
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Object

Currently, no diagnostic or procedural standards exist for clearing the cervical spine in children after trauma. The establishment of protocols has been shown to reduce the time required to accomplish clearance and reduce the number of missed injuries. The purpose of this study was to determine if reeducation and initiation of a new protocol based on the National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study criteria could safely increase the number of pediatric cervical spines cleared by nonneurosurgical personnel.

Methods

The authors collected and reviewed data regarding cervical spine clearance in children (age range 0–18 years) who presented to the emergency department at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, between 2001 and 2006 after sustaining significant trauma. Radiographic and clinical methods of clearing the cervical spine, as well as the type and management of injuries, were determined for two periods: Period I (January 2001–December 2003) and Period II (January 2004–February 2006).

Between 2001 and 2003, 95% of 936 cervical spines were cleared by the neurosurgical service. Twenty-one ligamentous injuries (2.2%) and 12 fracture/dislocations (1.3%) were detected, and five patients (0.5%) required operative stabilization. Since January 2004, 585 (62.4%) of 937 cervical spines have been cleared by nonneurosurgical personnel. Twelve ligamentous injuries (1.3%) and 14 fracture/dislocations (1.5%) were identified, and four patients (0.4%) required operative stabilization. No late injuries were detected in either time period.

Conclusions

The protocol outlined in the paper has been effective in detecting cervical spine injuries in children after trauma and has increased the number of cervical spines cleared by nonneurosurgical personnel by nearly 60%. Reeducation with the establishment of protocols can safely facilitate clearance of the cervical spine after trauma by non-neurosurgical personnel.

Abbreviations used in this paper:

CT = computed tomography; MR = magnetic resonance; NEXUS = National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study.

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