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Richard C. E. Anderson, Peter Kan, Kris W. Hansen, and Douglas L. Brockmeyer

Object

Currently, no diagnostic or procedural standards exist for clearing the cervical spine in children after trauma. The purpose of this study was to determine if reeducation of nonneurosurgical personnel 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 of suspected injury without a neurosurgical consultation.

Methods

Data regarding cervical spine clearance in children (ages 0–18 years) after trauma protocol activation at Primary Children's Medical Center between 2001 and 2005 were collected and reviewed. Radiographic and clinical methods of clearing the cervical spine as well as the type and management of injuries were determined for two time frames: Period I (January 2001–December 2003) and Period II (January 2004–July 2005).

Between 2001 and 2003, 95% of 936 cervical spines were cleared of suspected injury by the neurosurgical service. Twenty-one ligamentous injuries (2.2%) and 12 fracture–dislocations (1.3%) were detected, with five patients requiring surgical stabilization (0.5%). Between January 2004 and July 2005, 507 (68%) of 746 cervical spines were cleared by nonneurosurgical personnel. Six ligamentous injuries (0.8%) and 10 fracture–dislocations (1.3%) were identified, with three patients (0.4%) requiring surgical stabilization. No late injuries were detected in either period.

Conclusions

The protocol used has been effective in enabling detection of cervical spine injuries in children after trauma, with the new protocol increasing by more than 60% the number of cervical spines cleared by nonneurosurgical personnel. Reeducation with establishment of the new protocols can safely facilitate clearance of the cervical spine by nonneurosurgical personnel after trauma.