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Kevin D. Morrow, Adam G. Podet, Casey P. Spinelli, Lindsay M. Lasseigne, Clifford L. Crutcher II, Jason D. Wilson, Gabriel C. Tender and Anthony M. DiGiorgio

OBJECTIVE

While blunt spinal trauma accounts for the majority of spine trauma, penetrating injuries affect a substantial number of patients. The goal of this study was to examine the epidemiology of penetrating spine injuries compared with blunt injuries and review the operative interventions and outcomes in the penetrating spine injury group.

METHODS

The prospectively maintained trauma database was queried for spinal fractures from 2012 to 2018. Charts from patients with penetrating spine trauma were reviewed.

RESULTS

A total of 1130 patients were evaluated for traumatic spinal fractures; 154 injuries (13.6%) were secondary to penetrating injuries. Patients with penetrating injuries were significantly younger (29.2 years vs 44.1 years, p < 0.001), more likely male (87.7% vs 69.2%, p < 0.001), and more commonly African American (80.5% vs 33.3%, p < 0.05). When comparing primary insurers, the penetrating group had a significantly higher percentage of patients covered by Medicaid (60.4% vs 32.6%, p < 0.05) or prison (3.9% vs 0.1%, p < 0.05) or being uninsured (17.5% vs 10.3%, p < 0.05). The penetrating group had a higher Injury Severity Score on admission (20.2 vs 15.6, p < 0.001) and longer hospital length of stay (20.1 days vs 10.3 days, p < 0.001) and were less likely to be discharged home (51.3% vs 65.1%, p < 0.05). Of the penetrating injuries, 142 (92.2%) were due to firearms. Sixty-three patients (40.9%) with penetrating injuries had a concomitant spinal cord or cauda equina injury. Of those, 44 (69.8%) had an American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale (AIS) grade of A. Ten patients (15.9%) improved at least 1 AIS grade, while 2 patients (3.2%) declined at least 1 AIS grade. Nine patients with penetrating injuries underwent neurosurgical intervention: 5 for spinal instability, 4 for compressive lesions with declining neurological examination results, and 2 for infectious concerns, with some patients having multiple indications. Patients undergoing neurosurgical intervention did not show a significantly greater change in AIS grade than those who did not. No patient experienced a complication directly related to neurosurgical intervention.

CONCLUSIONS

Penetrating spinal trauma affects a younger, more publicly funded cohort than blunt spinal trauma. These patients utilize more healthcare resources and are more severely injured. Surgery is undertaken for limiting progression of neurological deficit, stabilization, or infection control.